Tuesday 11 December 2018

McAuley accepts play-off against Swiss could be his Northern Ireland swansong

Gareth McAuley turns 38 next month
Gareth McAuley turns 38 next month

Gareth McAuley will contemplate international retirement if Northern Ireland fail to beat Switzerland in their World Cup play-off.

McAuley, who turns 38 next month, will win his 76th cap at St Jakob-Park on Sunday when Michael O'Neill's team look to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit from Thursday's encounter in Belfast.

Should they not, and miss out on reaching their first World Cup since 1986, a number of veterans will mull over their Northern Irish futures.

"What I do is probably a lot to do with what Michael does and what happens after this campaign - that will have a lot to do with what I decide to do with my future," McAuley said.

West Brom centre-back McAuley admits his decision may hinge on whether O'Neill remains in charge or is lured away having enhanced his reputation by taking the nation to the brink of back-to-back major tournaments.

"So it's possible Sunday could be my last game.

"You never know. I need to make sure I'm playing regular football to even consider coming away to play international football, and there are obviously other factors involved that will possibly come to light and would be a factor in me deciding what I want to do, but I would like to be available to play.

"Michael gets linked with all the jobs going. It's a difficult one. There will be clubs looking at him, seeing what he has done with us over the last few years. He's had to build that process.

"It's that crystal-ball thing, looking to the future, looking too far ahead and that's not something I've ever really done.

"But it would be a consideration of mine, if Michael was to move on and get a club job, as to what I would do going forward into another qualifying campaign."

A further indication McAuley appreciates this may be the end of the road came when he revealed he wanted his son, Bobby, to be in attendance.

"I wanted my missus to bring the wee man over just in case it was my last (game)," he added.

"And she's not doing it, so I might have to play again! School's more important, and I agree with that. He wants to play football, play tennis, all that but he's got to do his school-work first before all the kids' activities.

"My kids make me sentimental. The hardest bit of the Euros last summer was after the family day, when they came, and then they were gone again. We were left deflated when they were gone, everyone was in tears.

"Lots of people say football is a matter of life and death and things like that but there's a lot worse things in the world than winning or losing football games."

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