THE new year cannot start quick enough for Roundwood Park pupils Ryan Gilligan and Natasha Dowie.

After making the breakthrough to England level at the tail-end of 2002, they are looking to cement their places in their national squads.

Fifteen-year-old Ryan, the son of former Watford player Jimmy, was called up for the Victory Shield National Schoolboys Championships for England Under-16's and the cultured midfielder came on as substitute for the final 30 minutes in the 2-0 win against Northern Ireland before starting in the 2-1 victory against Scotland just days later.

Ryan, who lives in Wheathampstead and is part of the Watford Youth Academy, now looks set to be named in the England squad for the Montaigu Tournament in France in March where he will hope to complete his first 90 minutes in an England shirt after injury restricted his time on the pitch against Scotland to just over an hour.

Not to be outdone though, Year Ten pupil Natasha Dowie also received her first international call-up, selected by England Ladies' coach Hope Powell for a special training squad designed to highlight players likely to go on to make the full England squad.

Natasha, of Harpenden, trained for three days with the squad, and will hope to be selected for a special squad later in the year which will train with the national team under Powell's guidance.

"Now I'm going to work hard in training for my current team Watford as the England coaches will be watching me throughout the year and hopefully I will make the final 18 to train with the International side," said Natasha.

"There is always next year though if it doesn't happen, although I have already accomplished my dream, which was a once in a lifetime experience."

Domestic matters are likely to keep Natasha busy in the meantime though.

Her side, Watford, are flying high at the top of their division and face an FA Cup tie against Liverpool at Parmiter's School in Garston on Sunday.

She is likely to be used to the rigours of club football though: her father Bob is one of the top non-league managers in the game while her uncle Ian played for West Ham, Southampton, and Queens Park Rangers and is Northern Ireland's all-time leading goalscorer.