Northern Ireland’s Under 21 players should be buoyed by Michael O’Neill’s squad for the senior squad’s first World Cup qualifier.
Included are three uncapped players and most interesting to anybody playing in NI’s underage teams will be Michael Duffy’s call-up.
The former Derry City winger is currently on loan at Dundee from Celtic and the boss says his call-up comes as a recognition of his dedication to the country’s Under 21 team.
At club level, Duffy has netted one goal in six matches since joining up with Dundee. Comparing him to fellow SPL star Niall McGinn, NI manager O’Neill praised the 22 year-old:
“He had a loan spell at Alloa last season and it was tough for him. They were fighting for their lives in that division and he did very well for them.
“He’s rewarded not only for the progress he has made with Dundee but he has also played consistently well for our under 21s and been consistently available. That’s what we want.
“We want our young players to make sure they’re available and to do themselves justice. The reward for that is a place in the senior squad.
“Michael’s one that we’re looking forward to getting in. Hopefully he has an impact this season at Dundee and subsequently an impact at senior international level.”
Also in with a chance of making an international debut is Burton Albion full-back Tom Flanagan. The Londoner doesn’t boast quite as much inernational pedigree even as Duffy with only a few Under 21 caps to his name but O’Neill says he has long had an eye on the 24 year-old.
“It’s important to try and freshen the squad up,” said the boss.
“Luke McCullough is unfortunately unavailable so we’re looking at a defender. Tom Flanagan is a player that came into our Under 21s late under Stephen Robinson and only made one or two appearqances. We’ve known about him and about his availability for some time.
“He’s played his way in and it’s an opportunity to bring him in and get him acquainted with the squad. We’ve watched him on a consistent basis.”