Belfast Telegraph

Manager hopes fresh faces can add to depth of quality

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill says he hopes new boys Jordan Jones and George Saville can show their class on the international stage.

Kilmarnock's Jones and Millwall midfielder Saville are fresh faces in the 26-man panel named by O'Neill yesterday for the World Cup qualifying double-header against Germany and Norway next month.

With Northern Ireland firmly on course to seal a play-off place for a dream appearance at the World Cup finals in Russia next summer, the new boys should be bursting with pride and determined to make their mark when the opportunity arises.

Saville, who came through Chelsea's academy, is a 24-year-old midfielder who qualifies to represent O'Neill's team through his grandmother.

He signed for Millwall in June from fellow Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers, for whom he made 50 appearances.

He joined the Lions on a permanent deal earlier this summer and has started all nine of his side's league games so far this season, scoring twice.

Jones, who started as a youth player with hometown club Middlesbrough, has become a fans' favourite at Rugby Park since signing for Kilmarnock from Boro in June of last year.

The 22-year-old midfielder has previously been involved with Northern Ireland at Under-19 level. He withdrew himself from consideration as a teenager due to his eligibility for England but has since made a U-turn on that decision and was part of a Northern Ireland training squad earlier this summer for the friendly with New Zealand.

Jones has played five games this season and scored one goal. He has previously played for Hartlepool United and Cambridge United as well as Boro.

O'Neill said at his squad announcement: "Jordan Jones is a player we have watched for quite some time.

"He was on Stephen Robinson's radar when Stephen was the under-21 manager when Jordan was at Middlesbrough.

"He has since left Middlesbrough and bounced around in that time and he has been doing very well at Kilmarnock. He was in the training squad for the Azerbaijan game but unfortunately got injured in the last game of the season.

"He has started this season well and this is an opportunity to get him in.

"He's an eye catching player. He did really well in the second half of last season since Lee McCullough went in there. He was always a player with a lot of  potential.

"George is a totally different scenario because we only really became aware of George's eligibility in the past week to 10 days. I went to watch George on Saturday and he is a player with considerable Championship experience.

"If you look at the squad, we had one player playing in the Premier League on Saturday, Steven (Davis).

"We had four players who played in the Championship, so when a player who is proven in the Championship aged 24 is available to us and he is very keen to get involved it is great for us."

Kilmarnock ace Jones said he was thrilled with the call-up and felt his game was developing.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," he said. "I was at home yesterday when the manager called me, it's a really big achievement for me and my family.

"I'm buzzing just to be involved. Hopefully I can go and make a good impression in training and see what happens. Hopefully I can get some time on the pitch.

"It's a massive confidence boost. I feel I've really picked my game up in the last couple of weeks and I'm really confident at the minute.

"My focus is on the Ross County match (on Saturday) and then I'll think about the international games afterwards."

He added: "I know Josh Magennis as he was here when I first came up, he's a big loud person so I'm looking forward to meeting up with him.

"It's international football so you are playing against the best players in the world. I'm really thrilled to be picked and I can't wait to get going."

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