Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill urges young players to seize their chances

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has urged his younger players to take their chance in tonight's friendly against Scotland in Glasgow and prove to him they have what it takes to be part of his squad for the Euro 2016 finals.

O'Neill knows there is much to do before qualification is secured for the the glamour stages of next year's tournament, but essentially the auditions for places in his plans start at Hampden with players like Paddy McNair and Stuart Dallas given a chance to shine.

Ahead of Sunday's crucial home qualifier with Finland, O'Neill says this evening's fixture offers individuals an opportunity to make him sit up and take notice.

"If we were to go to the finals, bar one or two players out injured at the moment, my squad will be made up of the 27 players who are with me for this game," said O'Neill, seeking his first victory in a friendly international.

"Should we qualify there'll be three or four disappointed, so that's an incentive for the players to do well every time they play for Northern Ireland.

"Hopefully the players we introduce against Scotland will give me something to think about for Sunday and the rest of the campaign."

O'Neill added: "We went to South America in the summer to play friendly games with Uruguay and Chile and on the back of that tour we found Conor McLaughlin who has established himself at right back in the European Championship campaign and we found Luke McCullough who has come into the squad.

"The match with Scotland will be a test for some of the younger players and it will be good to see them in that enviroment. It will be an opportunity for me to see how they respond."

McLaughlin's younger brother Ryan, McCullough, McNair and Dallas, who have six caps between them, can all expect game time tonight.

O'Neill will also use more experienced performers like Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird, who have been short of action for their clubs lately.

With the big game against Finland coming up at the weekend, the Northern Ireland boss says that this is a friendly that can be useful unlike others in the past.

"It is a chance for us to look at things from a tactical point of view and it's an opportunity for us to look at some players who haven't played very much football at club level, and to introduce some of the younger players as well," he said.

"We can get a lot out of the game because of that but the main focus is to get through with a good performance to set us up for Sunday."

Blackburn's Corry Evans and Aberdeen's Niall McGinn are injury doubts for the Hampden clash. No risks will be taken with either ahead of the weekend given both could feature against Finland.

Speaking yesterday O'Neill said: "They have little knocks. We won't take unnecessary chances with them.

"The main thing is that they continue to progress and if they're 100 per cent fit, then we can consider them for Finland."

Belfast Telegraph