MK Dons Under-15s starlet James Holmes says it was ‘an honour’ to represent Wales at the UEFA Development Tournament.
The striker featured in all three of Wales Under-16s' fixtures at the tournament, helping his national side to two victories. He provided the assist for his team’s winning goal in the 2-1 triumph over Slovakia.
mkdons.com caught up with Holmes on his return to Milton Keynes to talk about his first trip away with Wales...
James, first of all what was it like getting that call-up to the Wales squad?
“It was a great feeling. Playing for your country is such an honour.”
What were the emotions when you got the call?
“I didn’t actually get the call – it was my Mum. I saw my name on an email saying I was going off to Greece to play in a tournament and I was ecstatic. It was my first call-up for Wales and I’ve not had a better feeling – I was buzzing for a week or so.”
What was the first thing you did when you found out about the call-up?
“I didn’t know what to do, really! I was jumping up and down. Once I settled down, I called my family and friends and shared it with the people who helped me get to where I am today. They made it possible for me to get the call-up for the country.”
Talk about meeting up with the squad for the first time...
“We met up on the Saturday and did a pre-training session. We went through little things such as how we want to play while we are in Greece, and we looked at the teams we were coming up against and how they’d play. We did a bit of team bonding to get to know the coaches, staff and players that we’d be spending time with. It was a very chilled session before flying out the next day.”
Did you know anyone in the squad before you went?
“I’ve been part of the regional camps before so I knew a few of the lads from Swansea and Cardiff but at every age group you’re around each other talking on a regular basis which helps you bond.”
How did you find working with Rob Page, who has managed a number of EFL sides?
“It was nice as I’m part of an EFL club. It gave me an insight into how the EFL works and he understands how I play as he’s come up against MK Dons a few times. It’s nice to say he’s managed me.”
What was the training schedule like?
“It was very intense. We were training a lot and played three times in five days which is a lot for a 15-year-old. We had the right preparations, the right food and the right training in-between the games too. It was very intense but I really enjoyed my time there.”
Did you get much time to explore Greece?
“Not really. We were in a certain area within five minutes of the training pitch and five minutes from the ground we played at.”
What was it like turning up for your first game for Wales – arriving in the tracksuit and seeing your shirt hanging up?
“You just look down at the badge you’re representing and it gives you chills. It was a surreal feeling being around the boys, seeing all the kit laid around the dressing room and having that number 18 next to the badge was amazing.”
Against Slovakia you provided the assist for the winning goal – what was it like to contribute towards a goal for your country?
“It was a great feeling. I was actually in two minds whether to shoot or cross but I chose to play the pass across to Josh [Thomas] and he finished it. It was such a good feeling because it won us the game and the whole team were buzzing – it doesn’t get better than that really.”
Your brother Ryan was part of a regional camp at the same time you were in Greece – how proud are you of him?
“It’s amazing. I’ve always told him he’ll get his chance. I was texting him all the way through his camp and he said he thoroughly enjoyed it. He said the worked on so many things and learnt a lot that he couldn’t wait to show me. I’m so proud of him. We grew up with a lot of sibling rivalry but it’s nice to see him doing well! I’ll help him as much as I can but at the end of the day it’s up to him and his hard work – I’m sure he’ll make it.”
This international call-up is obviously a highlight in your season – how would you assess your 2017/18 campaign?
“I think I’ve had a good season. I’ve worked hard and learnt a lot throughout the year. There have been a few ups and downs but I’ve scored goals, which is my main target. I’ve contributed towards the team and helped them as much as I can but in my individual performance I think I’ve been very good this season.”
How important do you see day release to help you bond with your teammates ahead of your weekend games?
“Day release is a big thing I feel – coming out of school and being in a full-time environment, seeing the first-team and Under-18s around the training ground and looking at what they are working on is always nice. Being with your team working outside of school is a big thing –you learn a lot about each other.”
Is it motivating having someone like Dan Micciche in charge of the First-Team – someone who has managed at your level before?
“I’ve known Dan since I was little –he’s always helped my in my career. I like him as a person and as a coach – he’s helped me all the way through the academy until he left. He went on to bigger things and then came back to MK Dons, which will only help my development.”
If you keep playing well there could be a chance for Under-18s football – is that a challenge you’d relish?
“I love a challenge and I’d love to be playing there. I’ve had a few 20-minutes at the end of games for them but another step is another step and playing with the Under-18s after they’ve won the league, and being around them and learning about how they play, is another step I’d love to take.”
Finally, how do you think your time away with Wales will help you develop as a person and a player?
“I had to show character and I learnt a lot about the mental side of the game. We were down 1-0 and had to come back – we had to fight and show a tactical understanding. It’s helped me as a person as I learnt how to deal with that pressure and how to help others in that situation. I think it’ll help me as I can take that into my club football.”