Belfast Telegraph

United's Paddy McNair is already equipped to take pressure in his stride, believes Northern Ireland boss

By Steven Beacom

Michael O’Neill says Paddy McNair’s Manchester United experiences will help him cope with a hostile atmosphere in Romania if called upon to make his international debut in next Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier.

Youngster McNair was yesterday named in the Northern Ireland senior squad for the first time, and should injury prevent Aaron Hughes from travelling to Bucharest the 19-year-old defender from Ballyclare may come into the manager’s thinking for the Group F clash.

O’Neill intends on going to Old Trafford on Saturday to watch McNair, who is expected to play against Crystal Palace due to the ongoing injury problems at the back for United and Chris Smalling’s suspension picked up after his needless red card in the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City.

McNair, back from a hamstring problem which stopped him joining O’Neill’s squad for last month’s wins over the Faroe Islands and Greece, came off the bench in Sunday’s derby to play at centre half in his third Premier League appearance.

Again he showed his potential which bodes well for Northern Ireland in the future and possibly even in Bucharest.

The Arena Nationala will be partially closed for the game after Uefa punished Romania for crowd trouble during October’s draw with Hungary, but the home fans remain determined to create an intimidating atmosphere for the visitors.

O’Neill is certain such an occasion wouldn’t trouble rookie McNair.

“Paddy came on in the Manchester derby so he is well equipped to handle any atmosphere.

“He also played against Everton so that wouldn’t concern me. If we feel he is ready to play, he will,” said O’Neill.

“To see him back from injury and straight back into the United squad at the weekend was good, and with what happened to United at City there’s a fair chance he will start against Crystal Palace, so it’s perfect timing for Paddy.”

Asked if he was shocked by McNair’s emergence, O’Neill said: “You are always surprised when a young player comes from obscurity and goes straight into the first team at a club like Manchester United.

“He has handled the games well that he has played in so far.

“I think he is learning the position as well because in his early days he played in central midfield. Obviously United see him as a centre back.

“Paddy is a player we have known about for some time. He has played in our under 19s and under 21s so we always had high hopes for him.”

There is no place in the squad for McNair’s club mate Jonny Evans, still out with an ankle problem.

O’Neill explained: “Jonny is not fit. Unfortunately his recovery has been slower than he had hoped. He’s been out now for seven weeks.”

Another absentee is Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson, left back against the Faroes and Greece, who has sustained medial ligament damage. The returning Chris Brunt is likely to replace him.

“Chris has no issues playing left back. It is good to have that attitude from senior players.

“It’s the same with Chris Baird and Corry Evans, who we sometimes ask to play out of position,” said O’Neill.

“They are prepared to play wherever is required. You know you are heading in the right direction when players are thinking about the team rather than just themselves.”

On Hughes, O’Neill will await news of a scan on the Brighton defender’s ankle but like Derby forward Jamie Ward, the 34-year-old veteran is struggling to make the trip.

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