Sunderland’s Daniel Ballard says it will be ‘a dream come true’ when he leads the Northern Ireland team out on Tuesday night against Andorra after being handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Jonny Evans.

Having played in Saturday’s 5-1 defeat to Spain, manager Michael O’Neill explained the Manchester United defender was never going to be involved against Andorra and has left the training camp with Ballard taking over the duties of skipper.

The 24-year-old centre-back has been captain of Northern Ireland before but only in the later stages of a game. This will be the first time from the start and the honour means a great deal to him.

“It will be a dream come true,” said Ballard.

“It will be different starting as skipper. I’m excited. It is one of the biggest honours a player can have and I’m really looking forward to it. My family will be over the moon and I’m sure they will be extremely proud just as I am.”

Ballard revealed in terms of what type of skipper he will be, he intends taking a leaf out of the Steven Davis and Jonny Evans playbook.

“I feel like I play like a captain. I try to lead. I’m a centre back and play quite aggressively and always try to help my team-mates. I’d like to lead by example for Northern Ireland,” said Ballard.

“Captains like Jonny (Evans) and Davo (Steve Davis) were captains that led by example.

“They weren’t shouters or screamers. I think that is probably something I have looked at and admired and I appreciated that from them. I found them not being screamers or shouters a lot more helpful for me so I’ll maybe go down that route.”

Ballard scored in Saturday’s 5-1 defeat to Spain and spoke maturely afterwards about what O’Neill’s young team can learn from that experience. The defender feels bonds are being strengthened in the Northern Ireland squad in every international window including this one.

“The mood in the camp has been really good,” he stated.

“We have a young group now and there is a real bond and connection forming. We have probably had five or six camps together now.

“And we have kept some of the older players which has been extremely important. I’m getting a little older myself now and I believe I have a better understanding of the game and with more experience hopefully I can take my game to the next level.

“In the last year I feel I’ve grown as a player and it has been really positive.”