Belfast Telegraph

Nothing was going to stop me coming on Northern Ireland tour: Norwood

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill's preparations for the friendly battles with Uruguay and Chile have been badly disrupted by withdrawals but Oliver Norwood is proud to be raring to go in Montevideo.

O'Neill is disappointed with the number of withdrawals he has suffered ahead of the South American tour but 23-year-old Lancashire man Norwood can't wait to take on Uruguay at 12.30am on Saturday.

A host of familiar faces will be missing in Montevideo and then in Valparaiso when Northern Ireland wrestle with Chile on Wednesday.

However, the Huddersfield Town midfielder is relishing the chance to take on a side who hope to take the World Cup by storm in Brazil.

"It's important to play in these games and like Michael (O'Neill) told us, we might never get the chance to play in South America again," said Norwood.

"It's an experience I want on my CV. It will be two tough games but they are important because they're the last ones we have before the Euro qualifiers in September.

"They are top, top teams so it will be difficult but we're up for the challenge and the experience.

"As a young player these games can only help me develop. I jumped at the chance to come out here and nothing was going to stop me.

"As for the withdrawals, people have different agendas and reasons. I'm here but I'm not going to comment on other people's situations."

With young starlets like Ryan McLaughlin, Liam Donnelly and James Gray emerging on the senior international stage, Norwood, even at the age of 23, can consider himself one of the more seasoned campaigners in the travelling party.

As he prepares to win his 15th cap, Norwood is hoping some of the fresh faces can mirror his own development by securing a place in the side.

"It's great to see," he added.

"I've been in the same position as these boys. They've been talking to me because they see me as a similar age and anything they need, they've only got to ask.

"All the senior players are accessible, easy to speak to and anyone would tell you it's a very good group of lads to be a part of.

"You have to take your chance when it comes, I'm sure that's what Michael is telling them too.

"If they get a chance in the game they'll need to impress and I hope they do because we haven't got the resources of other countries who can call on 30 or 40 players in a campaign – we're looking at 22-23 realistically.

"Everyone is willing the young lads to come in and impress and they've been welcomed with open arms." Norwood, who made his Northern Ireland debut in sweltering conditions in a 2–0 friendly defeat away to Montenegro in 2010, is looking forward to seeing what South American opposition has to offer.

"I've never played a South American team but any time you can put yourself up against top class opposition can only stand us in good stead for the qualifiers," he added.

"Every game in the campaign will be tough, as we found out last time. There will be no easy games and no right to win any given game. Against the bigger nations we are known for performing a lot better so hopefully we can give another good account of ourselves against Uruguay."

* Former Crewe Alexandra midfielder Michael O'Connor has been released by League One play-off winners Rotherham United.

Early season form had seen O'Connor force his way back in to the Northern Ireland fold and he came on as a 35th minute substitute away to Luxembourg in September.

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