A RETURN to the Championship would mean the world to everyone connected with Rotherham United, and for Lee Frecklington there is an added incentive.
Many Millers fans probably do not know that the in-form midfielder once donned the green of Ireland in an international B fixture against Scotland in front of a sparse crowd at Dublin’s Dalymount Park in November 2006, but the 28-year-old remembers that day as clear as a bell.
Then with Lincoln City, Frecklington, who qualifies for Ireland through his maternal grandparents, achieved his only appearance to date with the boys in green.
While Irish eyes will be smiling to hail St Patrick’s Day on Monday, Frecklington is not giving up hope of representing the Emerald Isle at senior level.
But to have any chance of that, he recognises that only the Championship will do.
The Lincoln-born player said: “Thankfully, I had the opportunity to play that one game for Ireland B and when you are there it’s something you would like to get another taste of.
“There was a 40-man squad and we got called up for a week and fortunately enough I managed to get in that while playing for Lincoln, which was unheard of. I think I was the only League Two player there.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think they have had another B game since then so there was never another opportunity to get back and do that.
“But, let’s be honest, if you are not playing in the Championship you are not going to get looked at for anything like that.
“It would be nice to get back in there. Maybe one day, there’s still a chance I might get one.
“If we could get back there and I played week-in, week-out and played well in the Championship, everyone could have an opportunity and you never know.
“I feel I can play in the Championship and it would be nice to get back there for myself and Rotherham. It’d be a great achievement.”
You would be hard pressed to find a more impressive spell in Frecklington’s career than now, with the midfielder having struck 12 goals already this term – his most prolific season thus far.
The engine-room chemistry between himself and Richie Smallwood is self-evident, with manager Steve Evans effusive in his praise of Frecklington this week, hailing him as a “special player” and someone who is up there with the likes of Wolves’ Kevin McDonald and Swindon’s Bradley Pritchard as one of the best midfielders in the division.
His strike at Oldham in midweek would have graced Match of the Day, according to the Scot, but Frecklington for one is not getting carried away – and appreciates the perils of doing that under Evans.
With the Millers chief, you are only as good as your last game or training session and slackness simply will not be tolerated, with it illustrative that a poor session for one first-team player ahead of the Oldham game put paid to his chances of selection.
Frecklington, seeking a further promotion in his career, having gone up to the Championship with Peterborough in both 2008-09 and 2010-11, said: “The gaffer is a character and one of those who just demands hard work. Every single day, no matter what you do, everything has got to be done to 100 per cent.
“If you are not willing to do that and you don’t perform to the maximum effort, as he calls it, you are not going to play. The minimum you can do on a Saturday is go out and run as much as you can.
“Nine times out of ten, in his philosophy, it’s who works the hardest who gets the upper hand in the game and then your quality players come out. That’s his thoughts since I have been here and his record speaks for itself. It does work at this level.
“No matter whether you win, lose or draw, he never ever changes. We played Colchester last week and some would have said it was a good point away, but he came in and gave us the biggest rollicking of the season.
“He wasn’t happy and if you don’t give 100 per cent then he is not happy.
“You know whether it’s in a game or in training that you have to be ‘at it’. If not, you won’t be in the team. Everyone knows where they stand and are clear about that. That’s the way it is here.
“If you look at our fitness levels and how much work we do in games, it’s up there and our late goals prove that.
“We work as hard as anybody in the league.”
Assessing his own campaign, Frecklington added: “Goals-wise, it’s the best, yes. My previous best was 10 at Lincoln in League Two.
“The way we play, we like to get the ball forward and with a sitting midfielder like Richie behind me, it gives me licence to get forward. I think that’s been the catalyst for the recent good form.
“With Richie, I always know he’s going to be behind me, which helps.”
Boasting a proud 11-match unbeaten streak heading into today’s home clash with Walsall, the Millers are in a good place, with a play-off spot virtually nailed down and attentions turning to a possible top-two tilt.
Frecklington is cautious on that score, but neither is he ruling it out.
He said: “If we would have been given this position at the start of the season, we’d have snapped people’s hands off.
“The top two is a big ask. But if we can keep winning our games, then who knows?
“But it means nothing at the minute and we have to finish as strongly as we did last year when we won our last five games and that stood us in good stead.”