Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill should look closer to home if he wants something new

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill names his Northern Ireland squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Israel on Thursday.

If he's looking for a player who is playing regular football and at the top of his game he should look no further than Kevin Braniff.

The Portadown captain is in inspired form for the Ports who have stormed to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.

People will say the international stage is a huge step up from our domestic game and of course that's true but the 30-year-old, along with another man who has gained international recognition, Liam Boyce, are two players who are head and shoulders above everyone else in our league.

I would include Joe Gormley, Gary Twigg and Andy Waterworth in my top five but Braniff and Boyce are a class apart.

These guys are worth the admission fee alone. They can produce those magical moments that remind us why we love football.

Ronnie McFall's wonder boy played at Under-21 and Under-23 level for his country and won two senior caps in the 2010 American tour.

If O'Neill is looking for something different then Braniff may come into his thinking.

I can remember covering a Northern Ireland v Wales match during the ill-fated Carling Nations Cup at the Aviva Stadium when O'Neill's predecessor Nigel Worthington selected Irish League players including Crusaders trio Jordan Owens, Colin Coates and Stuart Dallas for the fixture.

The stadium was virtually deserted but a small band of merry Northern Ireland fans came up with the humorous chant: "Nigel, give us a cap, Nigel Nigel give us a cap.'

No-one expects O'Neill to turn to the Irish League in the way Worthington did but if anyone deserves a call-up it's former Millwall man Braniff.

If Portadown's number ten played for Linfield then there would be more fans shouting from the rooftops to give him this recognition.

If you need any reminder of his extraordinary talent for doing something special, check out the YouTube video featuring his Soccer AM Showboat Special.

McFall says simply: "We're lucky to have him." I would add that the Irish League is lucky to have him.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph