A quick glance towards Albania’s defence tomorrow night will give George McCartney all the motivation he needs to produce a top class performance for Northern Ireland.
Victory is essential for the Sunderland full back as staring back at him in the Qemal Stafa Stadium will be a familiar face — his captain at the Stadium of Light, Lorik Cana.
McCartney has formed a good friendship with 26-year-old Cana but that will be put on hold for at least 90 minutes in Tirana as the Sunderland full back is determined to return to the Black Cats with the bragging rights.
“Lorik plays in midfield for us but centre half for Albania,” says McCartney, who along with all his team-mates, with the exception of Jonny Evans, trained last night at the stadium in Tirana.
“He is a top bloke, a really nice guy, who is easy to get on with. He joined in the summer and gets on really well with all the lads and is a very good player.
“He’s been telling me about Albania so even though they are down the rankings we know they’ll not be a pushover. They’ll be big and strong. We must make sure we match them.”
McCartney will take up his usual left back position tomorrow night while his pal David Healy, currently out on loan at Ipswich Town from Sunderland, should be restored to Nigel Worthington’s starting line-up after being dropped against Serbia in Northern Ireland’s last friendly in November.
McCartney is convinced Healy, now that he is getting regular game time, will soon be back to his brilliant best. Healy hasn’t scored in his last 10 internationals but was on target for Ipswich 10 days ago against Scunthorpe to end a year long goal drought.
“As David wasn’t playing at Sunderland he needed match time to get his fitness back,” adds McCartney, who will turn 29 next month. “He is getting that at Ipswich again. He’ll soon get his confidence back and I am sure he will be firing in the goals again.”
McCartney’s own form has been inconsistent recently with struggling Sunderland and he hasn’t been a regular starter.
The former West Ham defender hopes this week’s international break will rejuvenate him.
“It is a bit of a rough time at the minute but I am sure we will come through this sticky patch and pull ourselves away from the relegation zone,” admits McCartney. “It is nice to come away and meet up with a different set of lads. Hopefully when I go back the batteries will be recharged and you look forward to the next game.”