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O'Neill believes his kids can pass Euro test


Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

Michael O'Neill is relishing the expectations placed on his Northern Ireland team ahead of today's UEFA Nations League opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After qualifying for Euro 2016 and coming close to making this summer's World Cup, Northern Ireland start the new competition targeting promotion to Division A, rather than fearing relegation to the third tier.

"For me, it's good to see players turn up for international duty with a smile on their face and a real purpose and a belief they can achieve something," said O'Neill.

"Expectation is a good thing. The worst thing you can have in football is no expectation."

O'Neill has introduced younger players to freshen up his squad, saying: "It's a great time for young players to join the squad. In the early years it was difficult for them because we were struggling.

"Now we're on an upward curve and the benchmark is set higher for them. The lads coming in are going to have to perform well to stay in the squad and team."

Among those youngsters is Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who hopes to make his first competitive start today.

The Darlington-born 21-year-old was recently phoned by an England coach asking if he might still consider switching his allegiance but he wants to stay "loyal" to Northern Ireland.

If he plays today, a switch would not be permitted but O'Neill said that would not determine his team selection. "I'll pick the goalkeeper I think deserves to play," he added.

"At the end of the day I don't think we'll lose Bailey. He's committed to us. But it's a competitive game and the goalkeeper that is chosen is the goalkeeper I think deserves to play."

The changes are not just in goal. Midfielder Chris Brunt has retired, while there will be a younger defence with Gareth McAuley not match fit, having only signed for Rangers on Monday, and Aaron Hughes is out with a calf injury.