Saturday 14 December 2019

McLaughlin set for bow

Liverpool teenager Ryan McLaughlin is on the cusp of making his Northern Ireland debut after ending any doubt about his international allegiance.

Right-back McLaughlin, 19, has yet to play competitively for the Reds and his senior career to date comprises of just nine games on loan at Barnsley last season.

But he is highly-rated by the Irish Football Association and was earmarked some time ago for a fast-track to Michael O'Neill's first team.

That progress was halted last summer when he asked not to be considered for international duty in a bid to make the breakthrough at Anfield, though there were fears that he was instead considering playing for Martin O'Neill's Ireland.

But he accepted a call-up for Friday's friendly clash in Uruguay and the June 4 date in Chile, and was quick to confirm he had never intended following the likes of James McClean in declaring for the FAI.

"I'm a catholic from Belfast and people think I probably supported the Republic as a kid so they then think there is something in it...maybe I'm not playing because I want to switch to the Republic," he said.

"To be fair they have a right think that because players have done it in the past and players have moved, but I met Michael face-to-face and I told him my reasons. I know supporters will be paranoid about it but I have no problem with that because I understand where they are coming from.

"When previous international breaks were on, the Liverpool first team were having games behind closed doors. Brendan Rodgers was there and I thought it was a brilliant opportunity for me.

"I didn't think I would play much for Northern Ireland so I thought it was best for me to stay at Liverpool and concentrate on that.

"People will believe what they want to be believe but that was the truth."

O'Neill always insisted confident McLaughlin would return to the fold when the time was right, but the player himself declined to speak publicly on the subject due to his own lack of profile.

"I'm a nobody. I haven't done anything in the game to be coming out and making big statements so I just left it to whatever Michael O'Neill said," explained the defender.

"At the time I was 18 and didn't want to make any statements about the situation or myself in general. I think it would have been embarrassing for me to come out and make all sorts of comments."

While Northern Ireland struggle for options at right-back, the same cannot be said at Liverpool, where McLaughlin faces the tricky task of competing with Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Martin Kelly.

Nevertheless, he feels the Reds' Champions League qualification might help open the door.

"Liverpool are in so many competitions next season so hopefully I will get a chance because we will have to rotate the squad a bit," he said.

"The manager has shown he will take a chance on young players. Look at how Jon Flanagan came out of the blue under Brendan and took his chance.

"I know where I want to be and that is Liverpool. I will set my goals high; I want to make a name for myself at Liverpool and do well for the club."

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