Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough says Kyle Lafferty deserves his international recall at the age of 34 after helping Kilmarnock into the cinch Premiership.
Lafferty, a hero of Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and the second top scorer for his country’s men’s team, has been selected for next month’s Nations League fixtures against Greece, Cyprus and Kosovo.
“I suppose it was big news when Kyle was left out of the squad previously, but the door was never closed on him,” Baraclough said.
“He’s applied himself very well at Kilmarnock, scored goals to get them back in the Scottish Premiership, and he deserves his recall.
“Hopefully he can bring that form into the Northern Ireland squad.
“We scored three goals against Luxembourg (in March) and we could have scored more.
“But it (scoring) has been an age-old question for Northern Ireland and Northern Irish strikers, whether we can hit the target enough.”
There are several notable absentees from a 28-man squad with Baraclough citing injuries and fatigue, both mental and physical, as contributing factors.
Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis are among those sidelined, while Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Tom Flanagan and Matthew Kennedy also miss out.
Uncapped Glentoran forward Conor McMenamin is one four new call-ups, alongside Shea Charles, Brodie Spencer and Charlie McCann.
McMenamin, 26, has not played previously for Northern Ireland at any level but impressed on a four-day training camp in England last week.
Baraclough said: “Conor, off the back of recognition of a really good season in the Irish League, has deserved a call-up.
“He’s shown us something that maybe we haven’t got within the squad.
“At 26 years of age he may have thought the chance of playing for his country had passed him by.
“But it’s a message to everybody, whether they play in Northern Ireland, England or Scotland, that they’ve still got a chance.
“We haven’t got a bigger enough pool of players to discount anybody and last week was a challenge for our younger players to show us what they can do.
“They all showed us something we hadn’t seen before, and off the back of that some of them have been picked.”
Northern Ireland start their Nations League campaign at home to Greece on June 2 before visiting Cyprus three days later.
They move on to play in Kosovo on June 9 before returning to Belfast and hosting Cyprus three days later.
“I’ve described these four games as the biggest test of my tenure so far,” said Baraclough, who has former England Under-21s and Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd as part of his backroom staff with Leicester coach Adam Sadler unavailable for personal reasons.
“I’ve got to manage game-time for players and bring younger ones through into a bigger squad.
“Greece will be a massive test and then we’ve got to travel to Cyprus and Kosovo and play in heat.
“There is promotion and relegation on these games, and possibly getting to a play-off for the Euros is something we are striving for. But we also have to temper that by giving experience to some younger players.”
Squad: B Peacock-Farrell (Sheff Wed), T Carson (St Mirren), L Southwood (Reading), J Clarke (Glenavon), D Ballard (Arsenal), C Bradley (Liverpool), C Boyd-Munce (Middlesbrough), C Brown (Cardiff), J Evans (Leicester), T Hume (Sunderland), P Lane (Fleetwood), P McNair (Middlesbrough), B Spencer (Huddersfield), S Davis (Rangers), S Charles (Man City), C McCann (Rangers), L Donnelly (Motherwell), A McCalmont (Leeds), A McCann (Preston), N McGinn (Dundee), G Saville (Millwall), J Thompson (Stoke), D Charles (Bolton), K Lafferty (Kilmarnock), S Lavery (Blackpool), C McMenamin (Glentoran), C Washington (Charlton), G Whyte (Cardiff).