Nigel Worthington last night hit back at critics who have put the boot into Northern Ireland’s tour to the USA and Chile.
And the international boss has accused those who have been taking aim at the Irish FA of failing to see the value in such a venture.
In similar circumstances Worthington took a crop of youngsters to Italy this time last year, while the vast majority of his senior stars were unavailable — mostly due to pre-arranged holidays.
Again the top men, like Maik Taylor, Aaron Hughes, Steve Davis and David Healy, are missing, for various reasons.
Worthington and his extremely inexperienced squad touched down in New York last night, before making their way to Connecticut for Wednesday’s game against Turkey before another 5,000 mile journey to Chile on Thursday, with a 17-man squad who have only 85 caps between them.
“You can look at it whatever way you want. From my point of view I look at the positives,” said Worthington.
“This is a great opportunity to bring young players into the squad in a no-pressure situation and give them international experience at an early stage of their careers.
“They can only benefit from that and learn from it.
“We’ll never know if these lads are ready until they are in this position and there are two games here for them to show myself and the staff what they are capable of.”
Northern Ireland lost 3-0 to Italy in Pisa 12 months ago, but that game saw goalkeeper Johnny Tuffey come of age in international football in only his second cap, saving a penalty from Giampaolo Pazzini.
He isn’t in the squad this time, but the other big positive from the Italian game, Manchester United youngster Corry Evans, is and the two games will be an opportunity for him to nail down a regular place in the squad, even though he has yet to make the breakthrough at Old Trafford.
With two caps to his name he is the most experienced midfielder in the squad and this will be the time for him to come to the fore.
Seven members of the squad have yet to make an international appearance and of the strikers available to Worthington, Rory Patterson’s 27 minutes against Albania back in March are the sum total of the experience he can call upon.
Half a dozen Irish League players are also in the squad — two of them, in Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew and Portadown’s Kevin Braniff, for the first time and Worthington is laying down a challenge for those players, who he insists will never be ignored.
“It is great for the Irish League as a whole, the players themselves and their clubs that they are on this trip,” said Worthington.
“It shows them that the opportunity is there, if they are performing at a high level for their clubs, to be involved in international football.
“Just because they are playing in the Irish League doesn’t rule them out. Obviously it is better if they are playing full-time football, but Irish League players have always been involved and they will continue to be if they merit a call-up.”