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Northern Ireland under-21 boss Jim Magilton is urging kids to take the next step

By Stuart McKinley

Jim Magilton has told his Northern Ireland under-21 starlets to use tomorrow's European Championship qualifier in Macedonia as a stepping stone to a senior international career.

The boss believes it is the perfect stage for players to launch themselves into the big time because Michael O'Neill will fly straight to Skopje from Prague to get a further look at the next generation who are pushing for full international recognition.

O'Neill has already shown that he will not hesitate to reward young, hungry players after promoting Celtic's Michael Duffy for last night's opening World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, before he was forced to withdraw through injury.

"It's so important for their development to taste this. It really is invaluable experience," said Magilton.

"This sort of level they don't play at with their clubs because some of them aren't playing in their first-teams.

"The added benefit for these guys is that the international manager will be at the game. He's flying straight from Prague so there is no greater incentive than that.

"They probably think they are a million miles away, but Jamie Sendles-White was on the stand-by list. Michael Duffy was called into the senior squad and got injured so rather than think 'I will never be selected' they have to realise that they are so close and if they play regularly in their first-team they automatically come onto the manager's radar and they bypass under-21 football.

"Paddy McNair, for example, played 60 minutes and is now trying to cement his place in the senior international team having played at the Euros."

Magilton's boys are still looking for their first win of the campaign, but five of their six defeats have been by just a single goal, including the heartbreaking loss to Iceland on Friday night.

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