Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Northern Ireland call-up Ben's Reeves from good stock

Top gear: Michael O'Neill wants to be in the driving seat during the Euro 2016 qualifiers
Top gear: Michael O'Neill wants to be in the driving seat during the Euro 2016 qualifiers

WHAT have Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got in common? They all came through the Southampton Academy.

Current Saints stars Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse, enjoying fine seasons, did the same. So too Northern Ireland international Chris Baird many moons ago.

It's a good school.

Michael O'Neill is hoping in time that Ben Reeves, another product of Southampton's youth system, will graduate with honours on the international scene having named him in the Northern Ireland squad for next week's friendly in Cyprus.

English-born, 22-year-old Reeves qualifies to play for Northern Ireland thanks to his Ulster grandmother, who hails from Kesh in County Fermanagh, the same town where Kyle Lafferty grew up.

O'Neill, still buoyed by the inviting group draw for the 2016 European Championships, is delighted to have him on board, stating the latest recruit adds quality, competition and versatility to his panel.

Reeves started his career at left-back, but found his path blocked at Southampton in that position by the excellent Shaw, who could be going to the World Cup with England. Last summer, Reeves left St Mary's for MK Dons where he has transformed himself into an accomplished midfielder, scoring an impressive 10 goals in 31 games this season for the League One outfit.

"Ben had a good grounding at Southampton Academy, but after being released last summer, he has regenerated his career at MK Dons," explained O'Neill, at yesterday's press conference where he named a 22 man squad to face Cyprus.

"Our captain Steven Davis spoke highly of Ben when he was at Southampton and recently I've had really good reports from his MK Dons manager Karl Robinson. He has scored 10 goals playing in a midfield role and is an exciting young technically gifted player.

"He's been playing a lot behind the striker at MK Dons and in his younger days he played at left-back. In terms of his build he is like Shane Ferguson.

"He is eligible through his grandmother in Kesh and I think it's important to bring him into the squad now and bed him in."

When moving through the ranks at Southampton, Reeves was touted for England honours, but according to O'Neill he is more than happy to throw his lot in with Northern Ireland.

The manager said: "It wasn't difficult to convince him to join us. Young players have aspirations and he had been mentioned previously about playing for England at under-21 level, but once I had spoken to him and met him at Milton Keynes he said he would like to join us. When you have players who are out of the Premier League, international football can help promote their career and he sees this as a chance to play at a higher level.

While Reeves is the stand out name on the squad list, there are some notable absentees such as Aaron Hughes out for "personal reasons" and Jonny Evans, who is struggling with injury. Also missing are Baird, Corry Evans, Lee Hodson and Jonny Steele, though O'Neill hopes all will be available for the South American tour later this year when Northern Ireland play Uruguay in Montevideo on May 30 and Chile in Valparaiso on June 4, the final game before the Euro qualifiers begin on September 7 in Hungary.

SQUAD: Roy Carroll (Olympiakos), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Falkirk); Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Daniel Lafferty (Burnley), Rory McArdle (Bradford City), Ryan McGivern (Hibernian), Craig Cathcart (Blackpool), Alex Bruce (Hull City); Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield Town), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle Utd, on loan at Birmingham City), Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion), Sammy Clingan (Kilmarnock), Pat McCourt (Barnsley), Ben Reeves (MK Dons); Billy McKay (Inverness C T), Martin Paterson (Huddersfield Town), Jamie Ward (Derby County), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Dean Shiels (Rangers), Kyle Lafferty (Palermo).

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