Warriors FC defender Emmeric Ong is chomping at the bit to make his international debut after receiving his first-ever Singapore call up.
The 26-year-old is one of the four uncapped players alongside club teammate Ho Wai Loon, Geylang International goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari and Garena Young Lions forward Ikhsan Fandi.
The quartet have been named in V. Sundramoorthy's final 24-man squad to face Hong Kong in a friendly on Thursday and Turkmenistan in a 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier on Sep. 5.
Ong has been in good form for the Warriors, ever-present at right-back. He even scored his first professional goal in a 5-1 thumping of Brunei DPMM in July's Singapore League Cup semifinals.
"I'm really surprised by this call-up," he told ESPN FC during the Lions' visit to Tay Choon Hye-National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Dialysis Centre where the players and officials interacted with patients.
"At the start of the season, I didn't get many minutes. It all boils down to working hard in training which resulted in me getting more opportunities to play.
"Experience plays a huge part [in my improvement]. The more you play, the more you learn. Mistakes are made, you learn from every single one of them and become a better player as you go along.
"I think that's how coach Sundram gradually noticed me which I'm glad about. After all, it's every professional player's dream to represent the country."
The surprise call up caps off an amazing turnaround of fortunes for Ong, no relation of Malaysia's SEA Games coach Ong Kim Swee. In fact, Singapore's Ong was a regular at under-23 level, but did not manage to participate at the SEA Games.
Missing the 2011 edition in Indonesia due to National Service, the then-Young Lions' defender suffered a horrific anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in April 2013 that saw him miss that year's tournament in Myanmar.
Ong joined the now-defunct LionsXII in 2014 and worked his way back to full fitness, but rarely got a shoo-in under Fandi Ahmad.
He made his first and only appearance for the team in a 3-1 away defeat to Felda United in their final game of the Malaysia Cup campaign that year. He took to the field for the first time in 17 months by coming on as a 67th-minute substitute for Gabriel Quak.
Ong joined Warriors FC the following year, and is now into his third season with the club, notching up regular game time along the way.
"Credit goes to my coach [Razif Onn] and GM [Paul Poh] who have placed a lot of trust in me," he said. "Last season was a difficult one for me because I didn't play much. But I decided to stay on, and I've been rewarded this year.
"It's a long and difficult road to recovery after getting an ACL like what Fazrul [Nawaz] just came back from. I can totally understand every player that has gone through this process.
"You've to work really hard to get back to shape, and I'm glad that I made it back to the same level which I used to be playing at."
Ong faces competition from Hougang United's Nazrul Nazari and Tampines Rovers' Madhu Mohana for the right-back spot, but says he is up for the challenge.
"In my position, there are players who are much more experienced than me at this level, and it's a healthy competition for the country," he said.
"I don't know if I will start or play. But if given a chance to go onto the field, I'll surely give my best and show the coach what I can offer."
Having watched the Lions' games from the stands on a regular basis, Ong admits it will be surreal to be at the other end.
"The recent [6-0] loss to Argentina, I was there at the Sports Hub," he revealed. "Of course when you watch the national team play, your aim is to want to be involved with them.
"I'm glad that I'm finally part of the team and it'll be a great feeling to have people watching me now, instead of me in the stands watching them."