Northern Ireland stars have one last chance to stake a claim for France Euro 2016 finals: Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has urged his fringe players to take their chance at this week's training camp and show him they deserve to make his Euro 2016 squad.
The preparation for the country's first major tournament in 30 years began in earnest yesterday when Northern Ireland players from outside the Premier League met up in Manchester to get down to work.
O'Neill already knows most of the 23-man panel he is taking to France, but there are still a few spots up for grabs with the manager challenging those on the edge of selection to impress him before he announces his panel on May 28, the day after Northern Ireland host Belarus in a friendly.
"I know a high percentage of my 23-man squad, and I'm sure most people could guess who the certs are, but there is still time for other players to show why they should be in my plans for the finals," said O'Neill.
"It is up to the players on the fringe to impress me and show me that they are in good form, that they are in good shape and could work well within the dynamic of our group for the tournament."
O’Neill’s big decisions will come in defence and attack. Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis have all booked their flights for France leaving space for one more striker, unless the Northern Ireland manager changes his mind and opts for five forwards.
Sticking to his original plan, O’Neill would have a straight choice between Wigan’s Will Grigg and Ross County’s Liam Boyce, both of whom have been in fine scoring form this season.
At the back, he must decide if Daniel Lafferty, Michael Smith and Luke McCullough make it.
Next week all of the squad, including big hitters like captain Steven Davis, will come together in Dublin to gear up for battles ahead with world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine in the group stages.
Aiming to make it 11 games in-a-row without defeat when they face Belarus at Windsor Park on May 27, O’Neill will announce his final squad at the Titanic Centre in Belfast on Saturday week with the final friendly in Slovakia on June 4.
Last night, O’Neill was honoured with a special achievement award by the League Managers Association.