Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Norway: O’Neill has team in good shape

By Graham Luney

Grant McCann talked about a “fresh start” yesterday and he couldn’t have picked two better words from the dictionary to apply to the Northern Ireland set-up.

Not only is this a new dawn for the team under Michael O’Neill’s guidance, it’s also a new beginning for a number of players who have come in from the international wilderness.

There are fresh faces with a point to prove, but there is also a collective will to right the wrongs of the doomed Euro 2012 qualifying campaign that started full of promise but ended in disastrous fashion.

The first test for O’Neill is tomorrow’s home friendly against Norway, but this is valuable ‘getting to know you’ time with players he hopes to share many happy moments with.

Peterborough United midfielder McCann, who hopes to win his 38th cap, said: “Everyone is buzzing and it’s a fresh start for all of us with a new manager coming in with new ideas.

“We have done a lot of shape and defensive work so everyone knows what position we will be in. Hopefully that will hold us in good stead.

“The manager needs to get to know all of us better so a double training session probably helped in that regard.

“There is a fresh feeling about the squad with new faces coming in who haven’t been involved in a while.

“It’s a different environment and the lads who haven’t been here in a while will want to take their chance to show why they should have been here.

“The lads who were already in the squad must impress again. First and foremost, we want to win the game on Wednesday and hopefully the ideas that Michael and Billy McKinlay are bringing in will pay dividends.

“We did let a few people down in the last campaign and we want to make sure that we don’t do that again.

“The results speak for themselves and it’s not always the manager’s fault. The players have to take the blame sometimes and we will hold our hands up if we’ve made a mistake.”

McCann is also thrilled to see his old pal and comrade Aaron Hughes reverse his decision to retire from international football.

“I was really pleased to hear that and I thought he did go a bit early,” added McCann.

“Aaron’s still playing in the Premier League and he can still be a great asset for us. To see him back in the fold is great for us.

“I’ll not retire from international football until someone tells me I have to. I enjoy playing at Windsor and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.”

At the end of the Euro 2012 campaign, previous boss Nigel Worthington was forced to field considerable flak, but the players would have been stung by the criticism as well.

They are proud to play for their country and no-one goes out with the intention of ruining fan’s dreams.

“You tend to block all the negativity out a bit but when you see it off the pitch it can be a bit distracting,” added the 31-year-old.

“That happens everywhere and you just have to take it in your stride. You’ve got to prove yourself in every international game.”

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