independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Robinson building for the future

Stephen Robinson wants to keep supplying the Northern Ireland senior squad with players

Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Stephen Robinson believes preparing players for senior international football must remain his priority.

Robinson's side have lost all three of their qualifiers for Euro 2015, though back-to-back 1-0 defeats against a highly-rated Belgium are hardly cause for major concern.

Robinson accepts that the pathway from age-group teams to Michael O'Neill's squad is the most important thing and feels that, results aside, he is doing good work in that area.

Northern Ireland visit Gornji Milanovac to take on Serbia in Group 9 on Tuesday, where Robinson's side will get another chance to continue their education.

"Every manager wants results but Michael also wants as many players available to him as possible," said Robinson.

"He has already identified two or three who could make the step up in the next year. Lads like Liam Donnelly and Rhys Sharpe have been playing under-18 football but we have promoted them ahead of other playing at a higher level - just like Belgium have done.

"I've brought younger boys in and there are 11 or 12 boys in this squad who will be available for the next campaign.

"The reality is that we are not going to win every game but we have put a programme in place whereby players can be pushed through from under-17s, to the 19s and 21s."

One Northern Ireland Under-21 who would certainly feature on O'Neill's radar is Swansea's Rory Donnelly.

But he has asked not to be considered for the second time in his short career, leaving Robinson uncertain over the striker's future.

"At the minute, I don't know what the situation is with Rory Donnelly," said Robinson.

"I received a text message the night before the first game in Belgium to say Rory wanted to concentrate on his club career at the moment.

"We really rate Rory as a player and would love to have him with us but he will now have to show he wants to be there before he is brought back."

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