Lee Bonis: I was never interested in a big transfer fee, but when I signed with Larne, I saw it as a chance to prove people wrong.

“I came from nothing, making my way to the top, and now I have a chance to prove what I can do,” said Lee Bonis, preparing for his first acquaintance with European football.

Last summer, Bonis worked from seven in the morning until five in the evening as a roofer in conditions reminiscent of a sauna.

But since a £100,000 move from Portadown to Larne in January, the 22-year-old striker is adjusting to lying down and playing a full-time career.

“St. Joseph of Gibraltar” looms for Bonis and company in the first qualifying round of the European Conference League, with Larne looking to repeat last year’s heroism.

Bonis has also played for the Northern Ireland under-21s and has dreams of moving to Ian Baraclough’s senior side sometime in the future.

Those ambitions and aspirations stem from humble beginnings in the Mid-Ulster, as Bonis explained to Sunday Life Sport this week.

“I’ve lived in Portadown all my life and I grew up supporting Portadown,” Bonis said. “I actually played rugby when I was young, but I got bored and switched to football.

“I played for Portadown when I was 12 or 13, then joined my local club, Killycommain Boys’ Brigade Old Boys, and then Seagoe, where I had a few mates.

“I actually started out as a goalkeeper – I was short, but I liked it. The only thing is, Killycommain were so good that I had nothing to do, I got bored and asked to play in front.

“I won the Cup with both the BB team and Seagoe and I scored 50 goals so I got a call from Neil McCullough who was in charge of the reserve team at Portadown.

“I said no that I wanted to play for the first team and a few months later Matthew Tipton replaced me and three years ago I signed with Portadown.

“I played a few games in the pre-season and have been in the first team ever since. I scored regularly, so I felt that I deserved my place.

“I played in the league and it was great because we played well and won games, but as a Portdown fan, I knew the Premier League was where we needed to be.

“We were promoted and I knew it would be harder against a better opponent, but I was looking forward to this test. I like the challenge.

“My goal has always been to get across the water and play full-time, and then in January I realized that other clubs were interested in me.

“It became clear that two clubs were involved in the struggle – Larne and Glentoran.

“It was my decision and I made it out of football considerations, which team I think I would fit into and how each team plays.

“I didn’t pay attention to the transfer fee that was between the two clubs, but I panicked a bit because I had a big decision to make.

“My head was on the show because I thought I would finish the season with Portdown and maybe then I would leave, but it didn’t happen.

“There was a lot of speculation in the media and social media, but I tried to put it all aside and just focus on football.

“When I signed with Larn I looked at it as a challenge to prove people wrong and I wanted to jump right in and luckily that’s what happened.

“I really liked my new club, the feeling was great, everyone made me feel welcome and I think I scored five goals in seven games to help me sleep.

“I came from nothing, working my way through hard work, and now I have a chance to prove what I am capable of.

“The change in lifestyle suits me too, although it took me a while to stop waking up at five in the morning.

“When I was in Portadown I worked as a roofer for Davy Jamieson and it’s a tough job. I didn’t work out in the gym, I considered my job as my gym, lifting weights all day and I believe it helped me build muscle for playing football.

“I miss the hustle and bustle on the lot, but it can be really hard, especially in the summer when you work with asbestos roofs.

“You have to wear safety boots, suits, gloves and a mask, and when I worked indoors, I was roasting, sweating a lot.

“I used to wake up early when I joined Larn or lay around a bit until 7am and then at 9am I worked all day with the rest of the team.

“I’m glad I took this step and I’m grateful to Tippi and Dave Miskelli for the guidance they gave me and to Neil McCullough who led me and definitely helped my career.

“I have been a Portadown fan since I was a child and will always be a Portadown fan. Who knows what may happen in the future, maybe I can return to the club.

“But my goal now is to succeed with Larn. Last January, the system was a little shocked, but I spent half a season at the club and settled in well.

“I hope to help the team as much as possible in Europe, see how far it takes us, and then prepare for the new Premier League season.

“There are challenges ahead of us, but I’m always ready for challenges.”

One of the Irish League’s most expensive players has set his sights on following Conor McMenamin to an international team.

Striker Glentoran was called up to Northern Ireland’s Ian Baraclough and impressed with the Nations League performance, which gave Bonis hope he could follow suit.

“This is what I have always wanted since I was a child,” said the Larne man. “My goal is the Northern Ireland senior team and Conor’s challenge may give me the chance to do so.

“I was invited to the under-21 team, I played a couple of games and had a lot of fun. I really felt international football.”

Bonis added: “I was promoted to the Under 21 team and I played a couple of games and had a lot of fun. I really felt international football.

“But I couldn’t play the last two games because I was too old and I was gutted. I wanted to play more international football.

“Who knows what might happen in the future? Yes, I would love it, but I know there are already a few strikers in Northern Ireland, players playing in England and Scotland.

But it certainly wouldn’t scare me. I know it’s going to be hard work, but I’ve never been afraid to work hard for any team I’ve played for.

“All I can do is focus on improving my game at Larne, add value to the club and see where that takes me.”