Belfast Telegraph

Hibernian pair answer Michael O'Neill's late call

By Stuart McKinley

Michael O'Neill was forced into a last minute re-think as he assembled his Northern Ireland players at Heathrow Airport yesterday morning.

When Gareth McAuley, Michael O'Connor and Chris Brunt pulled out of the trip to Turkey on Monday morning, O'Neill was content to take just 18 players for Friday evening's friendly in Adana and didn't call up any replacements.

Hibernian duo James McPake and Ryan McGivern have now been drafted in by O'Neill after he received late, late calls from Jamie Ward and Shane Ferguson.

"We got late notice of Jamie Ward, which was a bit disappointing. Shane Ferguson has an illness," said O'Neill.

"We were only notified of that this morning so we'll monitor him over the next 12-24 hours with the possibility of bringing him out on Wednesday."

McPake and McGivern will fly out from Edinburgh via London today.

That journey will seem like a short bus ride in comparison to the one made by Jonny Steele after he received his first call up to the Northern Ireland senior squad.

The New York Red Bulls midfielder jetted across the Atlantic to meet up with his new team-mates. He will know one member of the squad having played in the 2005 European Under-19 Championships finals alongside Bradford City centre-half Rory McArdle.

"Jonny has had a good season in the MLS and scored six goals," said O'Neill.

"New York Red Bulls lost in the play-offs, so this was a good opportunity for us to bring him into the squad.

"He flew overnight from New York to meet us at Heathrow and that shows the commitment that he has.

"That's also the attitude that we want to see in this group."

Friday's game is the beginning of O'Neill's preparation for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

The tournament in France will have 24 teams, increased from the 16 which have competed in the European Championship finals since they were held in England in 1996.

Finishing third in qualifying could be enough to net a place in the finals and away form will be vital – hence the reason for taking the match in Turkey.

"Between now and the Euros starting we probably have a maximum of four games, staring with this one," O'Neill added.

"Given the redevelopment of Windsor Park we're playing most of those games away from home so this will be a very tough test.

"Turkey are a very good team and will be disappointed not to make Brazil so it's a good game for us. The experience is of huge benefit to the younger players – and there are plenty in this squad."

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