Sunday 4 December 2016

Wigan striker Will Grigg included in Michael O'Neill's 23-man squad but quintet miss out

Liam Blackburn

Published 28/05/2016 | 12:22

Northern Ireland's Will Grigg
Northern Ireland's Will Grigg

Will Grigg's place in Northern Ireland's 23-man Euro 2016 squad has been confirmed, but Liam Boyce, Billy McKay, Daniel Lafferty, Michael Smith and Ben Reeves have all been left out by manager Michael O'Neill.

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The announcement for the country's first finals squad in 30 years was made at the Titanic Belfast museum on Saturday lunchtime, though the unlucky quintet were informed of their fate earlier this week and missed Friday's 3-0 victory over Belarus despite being named in the 28-player group for that game.

Grigg, whose 25 goals fired Wigan to the Sky Bet League One title, opened his international account in that triumph and has earned the nod over Wigan team-mate McKay and Boyce, despite the latter scoring 20 times for Ross County last term.

Lee Hodson has been preferred to one-cap right-back Smith while fellow full-back Lafferty and midfielder Reeves have suffered after not featuring regularly for their Championship clubs.

QPR's Conor Washington has been included having scored twice in his three caps to date while Aaron Hughes, 36, will arrive in France with a century of international appearances should he feature in Slovakia next week.

O'Neill confirmed his biggest decision boiled down to whether to pick Grigg or Boyce as his fourth forward alongside Kyle Lafferty, Washington and Josh Magennis.

Boyce had scored 17 times before January, yet a broken hand set him back and Grigg propelled himself into O'Neill's thoughts with 20 club goals since the new year.

"It was very difficult leaving lads out who didn't make it," O'Neill said after the final squad was shown in a video montage which had their images projected on to Giant's Causeway.

"I've spoken individually to all the players. Some of the lads maybe thought it was 50-50 whether they were going to go. I determined I'd bring four central attackers, Josh gives us that opportunity to play wide. Probably the most difficult decision was between Liam Boyce and Will Grigg.

"Liam had a great first half of the season and had a hand injury second half. We watch the lads in Scotland maybe more than the other lads.

"Will just kept scoring, has 28 goals, is in a good place and his club has been promoted. Then he stepped on to the pitch last night and scored again. It was a difficult decision but I think it's the right one."

Former players Pat Jennings, Billy Hamilton and Peter McParland all shared their memories from Northern Ireland's previous World Cup finals campaigns in 1958, 1982 and 1986 before O'Neill arrived on stage.

And their thoughts were a reminder of the historic achievement that O'Neill's current crop have already attained having reached their first ever European Championship finals.

"I look at some of the players I played with - Michael Hughes, (Keith) Gillespie, (Jim) Magilton, (Gerry) Taggart, (Neil) Lennon, we had some great players and it's amazing to think that I'm managing the country and then had the chance to build the team," O'Neill added.

"Soon after that 6-0 defeat (to Holland in 2012) I went to Poland and Ukraine at Euro 2012 and I remember being at the games and the atmosphere was amazing. I remember thinking, 'it would be amazing to be a part of this', and four years later here we are."

Northern Ireland's 23-man squad

GOALKEEPERS

MICHAEL McGOVERN (Hamilton, 12/07/84, caps 10, goals 0)

Wrestled the number-one jersey away from Roy Carroll in the summer of 2015 and the former Celtic trainee has not looked back since.

ROY CARROLL (Linfield, 30/09/77, caps 44, goals 0)

Earned his first cap way back in 1997 and started the opening five games in this qualification process only to lose his spot to McGovern when he was ill.

ALAN MANNUS (St Johnstone, 19/05/82, caps 8, goals 0)

Third-choice stopper was manager O'Neill's goalkeeper at League of Ireland club Shamrock Rovers between 2009 and 2011

DEFENDERS

CHRIS BAIRD (Derby, 25/02/82, caps 77, goals 0)

One of a host of vastly-experienced defenders Northern Ireland possess, Baird can also fill in in midfield.

CRAIG CATHCART (Watford, 06/02/89, caps 27, goals 2)

Ex-Manchester United academy graduate has experienced a fine season with Watford and is a big reason why boss O'Neill has experimented with a back three.

JONNY EVANS (West Brom, 03/01/88, caps 48, goals 1)

A three-time Premier League champion who is now part of a strong Northern Irish contingent at West Brom. Evans' nous will be invaluable.

LEE HODSON (MK Dons, 02/10/91, caps 15, goals 0)

A right-back who spent the second half of the season on loan with Kilmarnock and did enough to win the nod ahead of Peterborough's one-cap full-back Smith.

AARON HUGHES (Melbourne City, 08/11/79, caps 99, goals 1)

Well-respected professional who made a retirement U-turn in 2012 and should bring up a century of international appearances in Slovakia before heading to the Euros.

GARETH McAULEY (West Brom, 05/12/79, caps 60, goals 7)

A late bloomer who forms part of a strong Northern Irish backbone. Also poses a threat at the other end with his ability in the air.

LUKE McCULLOUGH (Doncaster, 15/02/94, caps 5, goals 0)

Has been part of two relegation campaigns in three years with Doncaster, but that has not dissuaded O'Neill from including him as defensive cover.

CONOR McLAUGHLIN (Fleetwood, 26/07/91, caps 17, goals 0)

Despite playing for a Sky Bet League One club, McLaughlin was a regular in the qualifying campaign and is the natural fit as the right wing-back in the 3-5-2 which may be deployed.

MIDFIELDERS

PADDY McNAIR (Manchester United, 27/04/95, caps 8, goals 0)

Has been given opportunities in defence for Manchester United's senior team, though he and O'Neill sees his future in a central-midfield berth, where he starred in a recent friendly with Wales.

STUART DALLAS (Leeds, 19/04/91, caps 13, goals 1)

Finished the season in impressive fashion with Leeds and will almost certainly start on the left flank against Poland in the first group game.

STEVEN DAVIS (Southampton, 01/01/85, caps 82, goals 8)

A consistent performer at the heart of the midfield, the skipper scored a brace in the qualification-clinching victory over Greece in October and has been superb for Southampton of late.

CORRY EVANS (Blackburn, 30/07/90, caps 33, goals 1)

Young brother of defender Jonny Evans who is not shy of doing the dirty work in midfield, which may be required against teams who are expected to have more possession.

SHANE FERGUSON (Millwall, 12/07/91, caps 24, goals 1)

Another left-sided player that gets up and down well and offers an option in a 3-5-2 system. He still has a play-off final at Wembley marked on his calendar.

NIALL McGINN (Aberdeen, 20/07/87, caps 42, goals 2)

It was McGinn's introduction from the bench in the first qualifier against Hungary that set Northern Ireland on the road to France as he scored one and made the other in a come-from-behind victory.

OLIVER NORWOOD (Reading, 12/04/91, caps 33, goals 0)

Under-rated central midfielder who boasts a terrific set-piece delivery. Long-range strikes have become his calling card.

FORWARDS

WILL GRIGG (Wigan, 03/07/91, caps 8, goals 1)

Scored 25 goals to earn a third straight promotion out of League One. The Wigan chant states he is "on fire" and his form earned him a recall and a spot in the final squad.

KYLE LAFFERTY (Norwich, 16/09/87, caps 50, goals 17)

An end-of-season loan spell with Birmingham helped Lafferty get back up to match fitness. He scored seven goals in qualification and will be key to his country's fortunes.

JOSH MAGENNIS (Kilmarnock, 15/08/90, caps 18, goals 1)

A former goalkeeper that now relies on his power and pace up top. Scored when filling in for Lafferty in the victory over Greece in October.

JAMIE WARD (Nottingham Forest, 12/05/86, caps 21, goals 2)

The energetic Ward can play wide in a three or provide a foil up top for Lafferty. A hamstring injury ended his season in April.

CONOR WASHINGTON (QPR, 18/05/92, caps 3, goals 2)

Showed he belongs on the international scene with a terrific winner against Slovenia in March. The former postman is a raw talent that has yet to find the net since moving to the Championship.

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