Blackpool's Arsenal loanee Dan Ballard keen to learn from Leicester City and ex-Manchester United defender with Northern Ireland
Blackpool defender Dan Ballard says he will learn a lot from playing alongside Leicester City's Jonny Evans for Northern Ireland.
The 21-year-old is now away on international duty with Ian Baraclough's side, who take on Italy in Parma in their opening World Cup qualifier tonight (7.45pm kick-off).
Ballard, on loan at Bloomfield Road from Arsenal, has started each of his five senior caps since being given his debut against Romania in September of last year.
"To play next to a player who has such experience at that top level helps massively," Ballard told BBC Sport.
"When you see him play next to you you want to be like them and hope some of their traits rub off on you.
"It's brilliant for my development and all the players around me have really helped me settle in.
"They're always trying to help me improve and help me through the game. It's nice to come into a team where there is such a good bond around the group."
Having played for Northern Ireland s Under-18 and Under'21 sides, Ballard has already established himself as a regular name in Baraclough's squads, having been marked out as a star of the future.
After being handed his first cap in the 1-1 draw with Romania last year, the centre-back was also named in the starting line-up for four other Nations League games.
"It's been pretty crazy. I've been fast-tracked since my first cap, thrown in at the deep end a bit, but I have loved every minute of it," he added.
"I'm really enjoying my football at the moment. Everyone at Blackpool has made me feel so welcome and it's nice to be playing regularly and learning in every game.
"I'm really enjoying my time there but the goal is to represent Arsenal and play at the highest level.
"I've got to put the work in now and keep that same level of drive and hopefully one day I'll be playing at the top level."
Ballard has made 23 appearances in all competitions for the Seasiders this season, scoring twice.
The defender will be hoping Northern Ireland are able to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, having failed to reach the Euros.
First up for Baraclough's side are Roberto Mancini's Italy, who are unbeaten in their last 22 games.
"I'm extremely excited," Ballard said.
"These are the games you want to be part of - these are the ones you dream of so if I'm asked to play I'll be ready, go in there full of confidence and look forward to it.
"We know the challenges ahead of us but we've shown in recent campaigns we can compete with the best teams.
"Falling just short the last time gives added motivation and hopefully we can go all the way this time."
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