Belfast Telegraph

Slovenia v Northern Ireland: The kids are alright for Warren Feeney

By Graham Luney

Warren Feeney says the kids in the Northern Ireland squad have put a spring in the step of the elder statesmen.

Manager Nigel Worthington knows he can’t throw 11 youngsters into the starting line-up against Slovenia in the European Championship qualifier on Friday night but he is determined to nurture promising young talent like Jonny Gorman, Craig Cathcart and Corry Evans.

Among the youngsters who have missed out on the trip to Maribor are Andy Little, Ryan McGivern and Olly Norwood, but Feeney can see a production line which is in fine working order.

The 29-year-old is one of the wise old heads in Worthington’s squad and the Oldham new boy will be hoping to earn his 36th cap on Friday.

Northern Ireland haven’t won a game since Feeney netted the winner against Slovenia at Windsor Park in April, 2009 and as he fights his way into the international side, the young guns are breathing down his neck.

“It is good for Nigel to call up the young boys,” said Feeney.

“When I was 16 I trained with the senior team. It was good to be involved and I’m sure it is the same with players like Jonny Gorman.

“I was called up as a young lad when Bryan Hamilton was in charge and it’s a great experience.

“There is a lot of youth in the squad and you need to have a healthy mixture of youth and experience.

“The more experience they get, hopefully it will help them later on in life. Corry is also here and Olly has been in the squad and that will keep us older ones on our toes.”

The 1-0 loss in Albania and 2-0 defeat in Montenegro failed to convince critics that Northern Ireland can find a cutting edge on their travels. To retain any hope of progressing out of Euro 2012 qualifying Group C, Worthington’s men are going to have to start taking travel sickness pills.

It’s very difficult to win on the road in international football — as teams have found at Windsor Park — but the players are going to have to find some fresh inspiration as they dust down their passports.

“Everyone knows about our away form, we have got to put that right,” added Feeney.

“It’s a shame we aren’t going into the game with a winning habit, but we are under no illusion that it is going to be tough trying to get results away from home in places like Slovenia and Serbia.”

For some of Worthington’s more experienced warriors like Stephen Craigan — who is expected to captain the side on Friday night on the occasion of his 50th cap — and goalkeeper Maik Taylor, this qualifying series carries extra meaning as it could be their final shot at a major tournament.

Worthington, who was monitoring his players’ sharpness in training yesterday, would like to see these types of players get the day in the sun they deserve. However, he isn’t buying into the idea that their motivation levels will shoot up just because time is slipping away.

“Extra motivation? I don’t agree with that,” he said. “There’s no player goes out to under-achieve or under-perform, whether it’s club or country.”

Taylor is now struggling to get game time at Birmingham City but Worthington has no fears regarding his number one.

“Maik had a very good pre-season, playing a number of games for Birmingham,” he added.

“I watched him work in Montenegro, watched him in the game, and he’s in tremendous shape. I’ve absolutely no qualms or queries about Maik’s condition.”

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