NORTHERN Ireland manager Michael O’Neill feels that goalkeeper Gerard Doherty is battling for a place in his squad for next month’s World Cup qualifier’s against Russia and Israel.
The Derry City keeper, who replaced Roy Carroll in the Northern Ireland squad ahead of the recent international friendly against
Malta, remains very much part of the ex-Shamrock Rovers manager’s plans.
“There is always a chance of Gerard being involved in the matches against Russia and Israel,” stated O’Neill.
“We have probably four or five goalkeepers in for consideration, typically you’ll have three in a squad. It’s probably a little bit
difficult for Gerard, because he’s not really in season at the minute and I think to be fair the League of Ireland season isn’t particularly accommodating for Gerard to be called in, but we’ll keep an eye on his progress.
“He is in their fighting with the likes of Michael McGovern at Falkirk, Trevor Carson at Bury; Alan Mannus and Roy Carroll are
basically the first two choices in there, so there’s a spot up for grabs and obviously I know what Gerard is capable off having seen him for a number of years in the League of Ireland, so it was good to have him in the squad for the Malta game.”
In that match in Malta, Doherty was joined in the squad by former Derry City team-mates Daniel Lafferty, Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt, while Eglinton man Shane Ferguson was also involved and O’Neill felt they all mixed in well with the squad.
“We have a good set of boys in the Northern Ireland squad, good mix, good group of ages as well and there’s a good mood in the squad at the minute and certainly the Derry boys added to that.”
O’Neill knows it’s going to be difficult next month for him to get his first international win with Northern Ireland, but he remains positive.
“They are very difficult games, Russia are the top side in the group, they have won their four games, they are a very experienced side with top class players, who are playing at top clubs in their squad and Russia is now a league, which I would say is probably maybe the fourth top league in Europe at the moment and that will be a very, very tough game.
“Israel is slightly an unknown quantity, again they have started quite well in the group, but they have probably had easier fixtures, but we’ll be hoping to pick up points, certainly if we could pick up four points from those two games it would be a very significant haul of points for us.
“This squad and a some of the older boys in the squad have had a lot of big nights at Windsor Park and the Russia game, gives them another opportunity for that and we’ll need our experience players to be at their maximum and some of the younger players who will come in and play in that game, will have to make sure that they are ready to stand up, to what will be as stiff a test as you’ll get at international level.”
O’Neill, who was in the city as guest of honour at last night’s Derry City Council Sports Awards also did a training session at St Columb’s College yesterday, where the school’s various sides were put through their paces and he feels developing young players is the future for both clubs and country.
“There is a lot of work that goes on, the IFA (Irish Football Association) have had an excellence programme in place for the best
part of five years, so it’s not as if nothing has been going on, that is actively being looked at and maybe restructured, we need more connect time with the best players and we need the best players together and more readily available and training together.
“If you look at the UK now and what clubs are doing with their younger players, it’s very difficult to mirror that here, both the boys clubs and schools to be able to provide that level which the clubs across the water are doing, so as an association we have to try and address that and make sure that our young players, who go across the water at 16 or 17 years old, are as best equipped as possible to stay in the game in England.
“I enjoy working with players at any age group, yes you have to tailor our sessions, tailor our information and based on the quality of the age group today (Friday), there’s some very good young players in the groups, they are very enthusiastic and willing to learn and they are completing their education here at St Columb’s College and I’m sure they have ambitions to possibly play football, whether it’s locally with Derry City and Institute or whether it’s beyond that, it’s all part of their development, but the most important thing is that they enjoy the game and that they get as much out of it as possible.”