Belfast Telegraph

Bingy a fan of Northern Ireland's new kids on the block

By Graham Luney

Nigel Worthington has turned to young guns to breathe fresh life into the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and his former international boss Billy Bingham has applauded the new direction taken by the former left-back.

Eyebrows were raised when the ex-Norwich City chief named his side to take on Serbia in Belgrade last Thursday but Northern Ireland’s greatest ever manager knows a youth policy can work.

Bingham, himself, made his Northern Ireland debut when he was only 19 in 1951 and he has always believed that young lions can inflict damage in hostile environments.

Norman Whiteside was the most high profile teenager when he broke Pele’s record as the youngest player to appear in a World Cup, appearing for Northern Ireland aged 17 years and 41 days against Yugoslavia in Zaragoza.

The former Manchester United favourite was, not surprisingly, booked in the game and the boy became a man, winning 38 caps and scoring nine goals for his country.

Bingham (below) knew Whiteside could handle the pressure and if the careers of Johnny Gorman, Craig Cathcart and Corry Evans can mirror that of the man from the Shankill then the Green and White Army will be shouting from the Windsor Park rooftops.

Gorman, who hasn’t made a a first team appearance for Wolves yet, is still only 18 while Cathcart (22) and Evans (20) remain rookies on the international stage.

But the trio, who couldn’t stop Northern Ireland crashing to a 2-1 defeat in Belgrade, are likely to be unleashed on Slovenia in a must-win fixture as Euro 2012 hopes hang by a thread.

Worthington, though, has total faith in the latest crop of youngsters to come off the production line and Bingham, who famously led his team to the World Cup finals in 1982 and 1986, is pleased his former pupil is looking to the future.

“Sometimes Northern Ireland managers are placed in that situation where they have to turn to young players,” said Bingham.

“I was in the Northern Ireland job twice and I know that sometimes there was no other alternative but it’s always important that young players are given a chance to show what they can do.

“I knew Norman (Whiteside) would cope with the pressures because he was a teenager going on 30, someone who aged before his time. The one thing he didn’t have was pace, if he had that he would have been an absolute world beater.

“I had no fears with many of the young players and a manger should know when the time is right to introduce a player. We are a very small country with a limited number of players and we have to make the best of what we have.

“Any young player is going to have tremendous enthusiasm, passion and a determination to succeed. I can remember when I was 19 and getting my debut, I was fired up for it and ready to impress.”

Northern Ireland haven’t qualified for a major tournament since Bingham’s boys went to Mexico in 1986 and the real depressing statistic is the failure to reach the finals of a European Championship.

But Bingham remains optimistic of ending that dismal record with Worthington in charge.

“The Northern Ireland players should keep believing in themselves and work hard as a unit,” added Bingham. “I always wish the team luck and they should stay totally positive.”

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