Wigan striker Will Grigg included in Northern Ireland's 23-man Euro 2016 squad
Published 28/05/2016 | 12:26
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.
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 squad: McGovern (Hamilton), Carroll (Notts County), Mannus (St. Johnstone), Cathcart (Watford), McAuley (West Brom), J Evans (Manchester United), McCullough (Doncaster), Hughes (Melbourne), McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Hodson (MK Dons), McNair (Manchester United), Ferguson (Millwall), Dallas (Leeds), Davis (Southampton), Norwood (Reading), Baird (Derby), C Evans (Blackburn), McGinn (Aberdeen), Magennis (Kilmarnock), K Lafferty (Norwich), Ward (Nottingham Forest), Washington (QPR), Grigg (Wigan).