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George Saville lands Northern Ireland call

Millwall's George Saville has received a maiden Northern Ireland call-up less than two weeks after boss Michael O'Neill became aware he was eligible to be picked.

The English-born midfielder is in the 26-man squad for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Germany and Norway, with O'Neill learning of his Northern Irish availability through his grandmother.

Saville and Kilmarnock's Jordan Jones are the two newcomers in a squad that also features the returning Gareth McAuley, back from the thigh problem that forced him to miss this month's wins over San Marino and the Czech Republic.

On Chelsea academy graduate Saville, O'Neill explained to a press conference at Windsor Park: "We only really became aware of George's eligibility within the past week to 10 days.

"I went and watched George on Saturday for Millwall against Preston. He's a player with considerable Championship experience at the age of 24.

"If you look at the squad we had one player who played in the Premier League on Saturday (Steven Davis), then we have the West Brom players playing on Monday, and we had four playing in the Championship.

"He (Saville) is a player who is proven at Championship level at just 24, he's keen to be involved and we're delighted to have him in."

West Brom's McAuley, 37, returned for the Baggies in last week's Carabao Cup tie against Manchester City and will now come back to a Northern Irish defensive unit which has kept seven clean sheets in eight qualifiers - more than any other European nation.

"He's vital," O'Neill added.

"Gareth is a big miss for us. We've done extremely well in his absence but he's a player I would rather have. It gives us a bit more flexibility whether we play three or a four at the back.

"He's only played 60 minutes in the cup with West Brom but certainly McAuley's one you obviously want available all the time."

There is still no place for Watford's Craig Cathcart, Sunderland's Paddy McNair and Nottingham Forest's Jamie Ward due to injury, while O'Neill has left out Wigan striker Will Grigg once again.

He was in attendance when Grigg scored his first goal since January against Bristol Rovers earlier this month, but has stuck with the quartet of Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington and Shay McCartan.

Jones previously represented Northern Ireland at youth level but withdrew himself from consideration as a teenager because he thought he could make it with the country of his birth.

He has since made a U-turn on that decision and was part of a Northern Ireland training squad earlier this summer.

Northern Ireland host world champions Germany on October 5 before concluding their group campaign against Norway in Oslo three days later.

O'Neill's men have guaranteed at least second place in Group C and look primed to claim one of the eight play-off berths on offer, with a two-legged tie in November standing between those countries and a place in Russia next summer.

Full squad: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Norwich), Alan Mannus (St. Johnstone); Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Daniel Lafferty (Sheffield United), Adam Thompson (Bradford), Tom Flanagan (Burton); Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Gwangju), Oliver Norwood (Fulham), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Paul Paton (St. Johnstone), Matthew Lund (Burton), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), George Saville (Millwall); Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR), Shay McCartan (Bradford).

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