FROM being farmed out to Kilmarnock on loan from MK Dons, to becoming a European Championship veteran and a Rangers player with World Cup ambitions, the last two years of Lee Hodson’s life have been eventful.

The full-back, one of the politest footballers you could hope to meet, is a regular with a Northern Ireland side who look good to finish in a play-off position for the World Cup in Russia next summer. Not bad for someone many would see as a journeyman.

Hodson is a steady Eddie, and must be a manager’s dream to work with.

Loading article content

And the defender’s own dream, of playing on the greatest stage of all, could be about to come true.

“We are in a good position at the moment to get a play-off place but we have two big games coming up in late August and early September against San Marino away and the Czech Republic at home,” he said.

“The Czech Republic also have to play Germany so win those and we are near enough guaranteed a play-off place We had a great Euros campaign and that has carried on so we are full of confidence right now. If we make the play-offs then we know that any team can beat anyone else.

“Michael O’Neill has given us a real confidence and togetherness and we are all really close. When we go away, we look forward to meeting up and getting together. We might not see each other for four or five months but we’re so close knit that when we get back on that training pitch it’s so enjoyable.

“We all want to get back to another major tournament and have that experience of qualifying and competing in that environment. A lot of the boys are playing for some really big clubs now and that helps.

“We have a bit of a club feel with Northern Ireland and that also helps. Michael wants us to do things together. Everyone enjoys it, wants to be there, trains hard and get the same end result. We all have the same goals and Michael must take a lot of the credit for that.”

It was only 18 months ago when Hodson moved to Scotland after getting the chance to play at Kilmarnock for the second half of the season. He did that to get game time, which he did, and he then came the move to Rangers.

“If someone had said I would play for Rangers and play for Northern Ireland a few years ago I wouldn’t have believed them,” Hodson admits. “I wasn’t getting much game time at MK Dons when we qualified. I was at the Greece game when we qualified and then when we won the group against Finland.

“That was in November [2015] and I knew from that point I needed to go and play games if I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to make the squad. I did that at Kilmarnock. I didn’t want to be left sitting at home thinking ‘I could have been there’.

“It was a dream to go to a major tournament but if I hadn’t, at least I would have known I gave it my best shot. Thankfully Michael gave the opport-unity to go to France and then it was the icing on the cake to then come here to Rangers.”

Hodson is likely to feature a lot for Rangers this season. He is adaptable, which helps his cause, and even with so many new faces, the 25-year-old is looking for a stretch in the team.

He said: “It always helps that I can play either side of the defence. Michael knows that and I think that is maybe one of the reasons I went to the Euros because Chris Brunt got a nasty injury. You never want to see a player pick up an injury like that but Michael knew I could cover at left-back if that was needed.

“To be honest, until the time came when I was told I was wanted or not [by Pedro Caixinha], I didn’t really think about all the signings. All I think about is trying to improve as a player on the training pitch and working hard, then it is up to the manager what he wants to do.

“I didn’t let it affect me because if you start thinking negative thoughts then you have that negative energy around you so I always stay positive and believe in myself to stay at Rangers.

“Bruno Alves is a top-class player who has played at the highest level. He has won the Euros and other trophies and he is a winner. Everyone at this club has that same mentality – you would expect nothing less playing for Rangers.”