Chris Brunt has hailed Nigel Worthington’s influence on the Northern Ireland squad as the team prepares for tomorrow night’s friendly against Serbia.
All but one of the 20-man squad named for the Windsor Park friendly reported for duty on Wednesday afternoon and there is little doubt that Gareth McAuley’s injury is genuine.
The Ipswich Town defender hasn’t played in three weeks and Portman Road boss Roy Keane was adamant last week that if McAuley wasn’t able to face Reading in the Championship then he wouldn’t be meeting up with the international squad.
Under previous managers, gathering a squad for friendly fixtures was at times problematic, to say the least.
Thirteen players were unavailable to Sammy McIlroy when Spain won 5-0 at Windsor Park in 2002 — although some of those players had long-term injuries at the time.
A month before the famous 1-0 win over England in September 2005, Lawrie Sanchez went to Malta with only three defenders in a 16-man squad and deployed the trio in a makeshift formation on the night, with Keith Gillespie and Stuart Elliott handed unfamiliar wing-back roles.
Only a last minute penalty save from Maik Taylor prevented an embarrassing defeat in Valetta.
How times have changed, with Worthington able to call on an almost full-strength squad for the meeting with the World Cup-bound Serbians. Martin Paterson and Sammy Clingan are unavailable but their injuries also ruled them out of last month’s closing qualifier in the Czech Republic.
“It’s good that all the boys have turned up and it shows how much everyone is enjoying playing for Northern Ireland at the minute,” said West Bromwich Albion winger Brunt..
“I think a few years ago that probably wouldn’t have been the case.
I’d say the set-up has become more professional, everything is done properly. There was never problems with the hotels, but the way we are travelling and everything else is more organised.
“It’s good because you are coming from the club environment where it’s all like that and it’s good to come here and things are the same.”
Brunt hasn’t enjoyed the best of fortunes on the international scene in 2009.
Aside from suffering relegation from the Premier League with West Brom, he has started just two internationals — with only one of those a competitive fixture.
He was left on the bench in San Marino in February, but came on to score his first international goal.
An impressive performance against Poland a month later saw Brunt yellow-carded, costing him his place against Slovenia the following Wednesday.
He did start the August friendly at home to Israel, but missed out in Poland in September due to a calf injury and although he came off the bench against Slovakia, the injury put paid to an appearance in the Czech Republic last month.
“It’s been a difficult year at international level, especially in the last couple of months when I missed the Poland and Czech Republic games and I wasn’t 100 per cent fit even though I came off the bench against Slovakia,” added Brunt.
“I played 15 minutes and the game was pretty much over by the time I came on. It was nice to be involved but overall it was disappointing for everyone.
“The boys played well in the Czech Republic and finished the campaign well, but I’ve not had much luck personally with injuries and I haven’t been able to get a run of games.
“I wasn’t fit enough for the Slovakia game, I probably pushed myself too much to get home for it, but it was a big game and it’s only natural I wanted to play in it.”