Sunday 25 February 2018

Euro plans in place for Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill is just two days away from naming his Euro 2016 squad
Michael O'Neill is just two days away from naming his Euro 2016 squad

Michael O'Neill has virtually settled on the 23 men to represent Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 and will not use Friday's friendly with Belarus to give squad hopefuls a late platform to impress.

The fixture in Belfast comes a day before O'Neill announces which five players will not make the plane for their country's first major international tournament in 30 years.

From the current 28-man group, Liam Boyce, Billy McKay, Daniel Lafferty, Ben Reeves and Michael Smith were all conspicuous absentees at training on Thursday.

And while O'Neill insisted there was "nothing sinister" about them missing out, the quintet were all outside shots for making the final cut.

It therefore appears as if in-form Wigan striker Will Grigg, back in the fold despite not featuring since last May, MK Dons' Lee Hodson, Doncaster's Luke McCullough and two-cap QPR forward Conor Washington will all travel to France having faced an anxious wait.

O'Neill believes the team's training camps in Manchester and Dublin have given him a better indication of which players he should include and so it will not be a testing ground against the Belarusians.

"Tomorrow night isn't about trying to give somebody an opportunity to clinch their place in the squad," he said.

"I've known the majority of the make-up of the squad since qualification. As opposed to coming out and naming a 23-man squad 10 days ago, the purpose of the two weeks was to actually give those players an opportunity.

"We have a number of players who haven't played as much first-team football as I would like. I had to assess them somehow. If you can't see them playing for their clubs, how do you assess them?

"Those players had played a part in the campaign, some more than others, so it was important they still felt an involvement in it and we brought them together.

"The two weeks' preparation that we've had to date has been more important in terms of assessing them for selection than throwing them in and saying, 'Give me a good 45 minutes and I'm going to select you off that basis'.

"Realistically, what we see tomorrow night is as good as 99 per cent what we expect to see going to France."

On the fact Boyce, McKay, Lafferty, Reeves and Smith did not attend the training session at Windsor Park, O'Neill added: "Those lads had been in consistently for nine, 10 days so we gave them a day off and they will come back in tomorrow. There's nothing sinister in that."

Press Association

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