Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill's refusal to call up fringe players telling

By Stuart McKinley

Michael O'Neill won't be sending out any last minute text messages to call up players before he takes his squad to Turkey today.

Instead of dipping into his stand-by list after the withdrawals of West Brom pair Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt, as well as midfielder Michael O'Connor, the Northern Ireland manager will take just 18 players to the Turkish town of Adana for Friday night's friendly.

And his decision to run with such a small squad is a sign of just how far away the likes of Ryan McGivern, Alex Bruce, James McPake, Josh Magennis and Pat McCourt are from being international regulars – either again or ever, depending on their individual circumstances.

It would seem that O'Neill knows which players will serve him well in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and he won't be bringing others along just to fill shirts.

McAuley's withdrawal is down to personal reasons, while Brunt has groin and knee problems. O'Connor has had a thigh injury for a few weeks and has been nowhere near 100% fitness when playing for Rotherham.

When O'Neill named his squad last week he didn't include Kyle Lafferty, Craig Cathcart or Corry Evans. The latter two are injured, while Lafferty's wife is due to give birth shortly.

Bruce's absence wasn't explained. He has figured in every previous squad this year, but hasn't set foot on the pitch since his debut against Malta back in February.

It's difficult to see exactly where he fits into the Northern Ireland set up. He is now 29 years old and struggles to get any further than the bench for Hull City – and that's with his dad picking the team.

McCourt's tally of caps is 13 in 11 years and he has figured just four times under O'Neill. Maybe if he is appearing regularly at his new club Barnsley things can change, but his international career seems to have stalled – again.

McGivern has been overlooked for the last couple of squads since pulling out of the games against Portugal and Luxembourg through injury.

He has started every game for Hibernian since making his comeback in late September, but Daniel Lafferty is now O'Neill's first choice at left-back.

His Hibs team-mate James McPake has dropped down the pecking order having not been named in a squad in over a year and he hasn't played since winning his first cap in the nightmare 6-0 defeat to Holland in June last year.

With McPake, like Bruce, being stuck on the bench at Hibs and Premier League players in front of him for a place in the Northern Ireland team, it's getting harder and harder to believe that he will be anything more than a one cap wonder.

Josh Magennis wasn't selected for the squad, despite being on the bench for the games against Portugal and Luxembourg in September and Adam McGurk has disappeared off the radar after his one and only call-up for the Malta game.

There is, however, at least a little hope for Rangers pair Andrew Little and Dean Shiels. Both are currently injured, but have been picked by O'Neill this season.

The only others likely to press for inclusion are under-21 captain Josh Carson and vice-captain Rory McKeown when they become too old for that age group.

Belfast Telegraph

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