AS a youngster in the playground of his Longridge high school, Andrew Lonergan says he modelled himself on Tim Flowers.

At the time, Flowers was one of the best-known English keepers in the country. As well as having been part of a Premiership-winning side just down the road from Andy's high school, he had also broken into the England side.

Shoot forward five years and Andy is now the sort of player the current crop of schoolboy players want to mimmick.

He's worked his way through the England youth teams and is now second choice keeper for the Under-21 side. Completing that progression would involve coming off the bench when the Under-21s face Wales at Ewood Park on October 8.

"It would be good if that happened," said Andy, who has risen to first choice keeper at Preston North End, his boyhood team, this season. "But there is still time to go yet.

"When I first came into the Under-21s, I was third choice, now I'm second choice so hopefully I keep playing well, I'll get there."

Being called up for internationals isn't a new experience for Andy. It's been happening since he was in the lower years of St Cecilia's High School, a place he has fond memories of -- primarily because his teachers were so tolerant.

He said: "I missed a lot of school going away with England and they were really good about it, fitting things in, and then when I knew I was going to get a YTS contract at North End I suppose school wasn't really a priority for me, but again, everyone was very supportive.

"Because I was called up from quite a young age, I'd sometimes find myself playing football with my friends in the school yard one day, and away training with England the next.

"I did play in the school team a bit, but once I was with Preston on schoolboy terms and with England, I didn't have the time.

"I remember spending summers playing football with my mates on a golf course in Preston. Whenever I could, I was playing football."

And for as long as he can remember, he's played between the sticks.

"I've never really wanted to play anywhere else," remembers Andy. "I just starting playing in goal and found I was quite good at it. It all went from there."

His talent was spotted at a young age. Blackburn Rovers -- the home to his schoolboy hero Flowers -- were interested in him, and North End believe they also beat him Manchester United and Everton to his signature.

But it was his boyhood team that won that race, while England won another, and rather unusual, race.

As a schoolboy, Andy played for both England and Ireland, thanks to the dual-nationality which runs through his family.

The crunch came when England played Ireland - at Deepdale - with Andy staking his claim to a future as a possible England international.

At the time, he admitted he 'had to have a long, hard think about it.' So far, the gamble appears to be paying off, while opting to stay at North End has begun to pay dividends.

This season he has become North End's first choice keeper, thanks in part to the departure of Jonathan Gould. But it was several inspired performances last season -- he figured in eight games, leap-frogging home-grown David Lucas on several occasions -- which ensured Craig Brown had faith in Andy this season.

At 20, he's one of the league's youngest first choice keepers.

He signed a four year deal at Deepdale in the summer, and has started in all of North End's 10 games this season. Fans of all clubs love a home-grown hero, even more so if he saves two penalties early in the season.

But Andy is not getting carried away: "I can be very hard on myself. I want to stop everything that comes towards me, but I know I can't honestly expect to do that.

"I don't think I've had great games the past few weeks but I think I did well against Sunderland and the midweek win in the Cup was good.

"I want to get to the end of the season having steered clear of injury and played every game. I know I have a lot to prove which is why I try so hard. There is an added pressure, I suppose, with it being a local team I play for and I know a lot of my friends watch me, but I always give my best."

Being well-known and involved in football from an early age has given him the incentive to stay on the straight and narrow: "I don't go into town that much because Preston, despite being a city, is one of those places where everybody knows everybody else.

"There are people who look for trouble and people who watch me to see if I'm going to get drunk then have a bad game the next week. To be honest, with a game every weekend and one in the midweek most weeks, I don't get to go out much.

"When I do, it tends only to be with my girlfriend.

"I think having played for England and always having something new to push for has meant I have always looked after myself. When I was younger I never did any of the stuff a lot of lads did, like getting drunk on the street. I wanted to play football at the highest level."

His long-term involvement with the England set-up means he knows quite a few of the strikers attempting to put goals past him.

Darren Carter of Sunderland did it at the weekend, and Dean Ashton of Crewe will be trying to do it today at Deepdale.

Andy said: "It's good to see them doing well but once we're on the pitch, all friendship is gone. But there are a lot of familiar faces that I see."

The uncertainty over who will manager Preston -- Billy Davies is caretaking following Craig Brown's dismissal earlier this month -- is providing another spur for Andy.

"I hope Billy gets the job," said Andy. "He's given the place a real lift and I know the players want him to get the job, but we'll have to see what happens.

"If a new manager comes in and wants another keeper, there is not much I can do about it, but I will fight for my place. I've been on loan to places like Darlington and it would be really easy to think that everyone has the good facilities I've enjoyed with England and Preston.

"I know that's not true. At Darlington, if you lose a ball in training, you have to go and find it, so I know how lucky I am here.

"And that's why I'm determined to keep getting better."