Belfast Telegraph

Boss O'Neill will Czech on the fitness of Cathcart ahead of opening game

By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland are sweating on the fitness of defender Craig Cathcart ahead of their World Cup qualifying match against the Czech Republic in Prague on Sunday.

Cathcart missed Watford's Premier League defeat by Arsenal on Saturday with a groin injury picked up in their previous game against Chelsea.

The Northern Ireland squad travel to a training base in Austria today to prepare for that opening Group C clash and manager Michael O'Neill will be extremely keen for the 27-year-old to be on the plane.

At the start of a new campaign, O'Neill will be hoping his side can replicate their performances in Euro 2016 qualifying when they stunned the world to reach the finals in France as group winners.

But the boss is still smarting from the way Northern Ireland's summer fairytale came to an end when Wales kicked them out courtesy of a McAuley own goal.

"There's still a sense of disappointment in terms of how we went out and the nature of how we went out," he said.

"I watched the Wales game back and I thought we were comfortable in the game and I've looked at how we could have prevented their goal.

"The main thing, though, when I look at our games in the tournament was it would have been difficult for us to make a real impact in the final third of the pitch.

"There are various reasons for that. Firstly it's a massive step up for our players who are playing in League One or the SPL to go and play against Germany, Poland and even Wales with a back three from the Premier League.

"Players who came into the tournament hadn't played much club football - Kyle (Lafferty) and Conor Washington hardly played in the second half of the season for their clubs.

"We have to hope that, if the opportunity comes again, we are better equipped as an attacking threat."

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