When Michael O’Neill named his Northern Ireland squad for next week’s friendly with Finland it was a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’.
While young Liverpool starlet Ryan McLaughlin gets the break his rapid rise through the Anfield ranks deserves, out in the cold are established names such as Grant McCann, David Healy, Jonny Evans and Sammy Clingan who donned the captain’s armband in the 6-0 loss in Holland in June.
There was a golden period when the king of Killyleagh Healy was scoring goals for fun and was ‘undroppable’. But O’Neill is working in a very different environment and his message to his players is a very simple one — “your international future is determined by your club future.”
Evans is nursing an ankle injury so his absence was expected but Healy and Clingan are searching for new employers and McCann is fighting to salvage his career at Peterborough after being slapped on the transfer list following a drink-driving charge.
The final whistle has sounded on Healy’s Rangers adventure while Clingan has been released by Coventry City.
Although the Finland clash at Windsor next Wednesday is a friendly affair, Northern Ireland’s first World Cup 2014 qualifier is in Russia on September 7 and O’Neill will be concerned at the number of key men whose club future is uncertain.
Andrew Little and Dean Shiels make the cut in the 23-man squad — despite Rangers gearing up for life in Scottish Division Three — but others need to earn their place on the international stage again.
“Both David Healy and Sammy Clingan are unattached — it’s as simple as that,” said the former Shamrock Rovers boss.
“They are hopefully going to have their club situations sorted out sooner rather than later but when you are unattached you haven’t done the level of training required.
“The players understand that and the bigger picture is September. It’s not a decision I want to make but in the circumstances I had to make it for the benefit of both the players and the squad.
“Your international future is determined by your club future — it’s as simple as that.
“David knows that and I had a good conversation with him last night. He is hopeful of something being resolved this week.
“When David’s fit and back playing football he comes into consideration like everyone.
“His goalscoring record at international level speaks for itself and he’s still very focused in terms of wanting to continue his international career.
“He’s a positive influence in the squad but he recognises that it’s not really to his or the squad’s benefit to be included for this game.”
Plymouth striker Warren Feeney, who has 46 caps, is also excluded though O’Neill said he could not shed light on any speculation that the player was quitting the international scene.
“Certainly Warren hasn’t suggested that to me,” said O’Neill when quizzed about the retirement rumours. “He had a difficult
time with injury but although he’s not in this squad he’s an experienced striker who will continue to be on the radar and I just felt it was a chance for us to look at other options.”
Buzzing about his first call-up is 17-year-old midfielder McLaughlin who will not feature in Liverpool’s friendly against Crusaders at Ravenhill the previous evening.
McLaughlin, who is the only uncapped player in the panel, tweeted yesterday: “Thanks for the nice messages everyone for the call up to the NI first team #appreciateit.”
O’Neill said: “He was very impressive playing for the Under-21s against Macedonia towards the
end of last season and it’s just a chance for him to come in and get the experience.
“Over the next 12 to 18 months he’s a player that can progress though to senior international level.
“I got to know him with the Under-21s.”
The former Glenavon full-back made his Reds debut in the pre-season friendly against Roma at Fenway Stadium in Boston last month.
Meanwhile, another Northern Ireland international, Johnny Gorman, has joined Plymouth Argyle on loan from Wolves.
Northern Ireland squad (for friendly versus Finland): Goalkeepers: Lee Camp (Nottingham Forest), Roy Carroll (Olympiakos), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone); Defenders: Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Ryan McGivern (Manchester City), Aaron Hughes (Fulham), James McPake (Hibs), Lee Hodson (Watford), Craig Cathcart (Blackpool), Chris Baird (Fulham), Daniel Lafferty (Burnley), Ryan McLaughlin (Liverpool); Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Dean Shiels (Rangers), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Corry Evans (Hull City), Pat McCourt (Celtic), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle United), Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield Town); Forwards: Jamie Ward (Derby County), Martin Paterson (Burnley), Kyle Lafferty (FC Sion), Andrew Little (Rangers).