Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland have the pick of best young stars now, says World Cup hero

And Gerry Armstrong also reveals which England star he tried to coax into playing for Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong says Michael O'Neill has called it right when arguing that more young players will now want to represent their country.

With the national side on course to net a World Cup play-off spot following their Euro 2016 heroics, and Windsor Park bouncing on international nights, Northern Ireland boss O'Neill believes the jersey is a lot more attractive to any youngster hoping to hit the big time.

Young Northern Ireland-born players can choose to play for the Republic of Ireland, and the former Shamrock Rovers chief admitted: "At one time we had boys who dreaded coming to play for us in Belfast, now they relish it."

Armstrong, Northern Ireland's 1982 World Cup hero, said: "Players have many choices now but the current set-up is a huge attraction.

"Michael is right to say this and let's be honest he's got virtually everything right.

"I know from my time in the 1980s the fans and players were excited to be part of something and if we are qualifying for major tournaments or in the running that's a huge appeal to players.

"There's a wonderful atmosphere at Windsor Park and the team is gaining new fans all the time. I've encouraged friends to go and they love it.

"When I was involved in the set-up I looked at Kyle Walker, who is now with Manchester City and England, because he was eligible to play for Northern Ireland.

"Players have big choices to make and those who have chosen Northern Ireland are not regretting that decision now."

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