David Healy key to Shayne Lavery's rise, says Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has backed Shayne Lavery to keep producing fireworks for club and country under the expert guidance of David Healy.
The former Everton youngster is nursing a hamstring injury but is still hopeful of being included in O'Neill's squad named today for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Germany.
Northern Ireland first face the dangerous Dutch at Windsor Park on November 16 and Lavery would relish the chance to take another big step in his remarkable development under the Saturday night Windsor floodlights.
Lavery was released from the senior panel ahead of the 3-2 friendly victory in the Czech Republic to join up with the Under-21s, but he did feature in the friendly against Luxembourg and the 2-0 loss to Germany in Euro 2020 qualifying.
Linfield snapped up the 20-year-old in the summer after a loan spell at Falkirk didn't go according to plan and O'Neill feels Healy has helped the emerging talent prosper in a first-team environment.
"I think David played a big part in that," said O'Neill. "He worked with Shayne at a young age at Under-17 level with Northern Ireland. He was in charge of that team so he knew him very well.
"There was obviously a good relationship there.
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"Shayne just needed to play."
O’Neill added: “It wasn’t a case of his confidence. He didn’t play a lot in his last 18 months at Everton, competition ahead of him and injury.
“He played very little at Falkirk which was a disappointment for me because if they’d put him on the pitch, they’d have seen what he was all about.
“He continued to play well for Northern Ireland. If you look at the Under-21s, despite the fact club game time was limited, his performances were fantastic.”
The Aghagallon man has been in sensational form this season and it seems inevitable he will return to the full-time game in England in the future.
Young players can return home from England or Scotland disillusioned if their careers don’t take off but Lavery has taken setbacks in his stride.
“I was disappointed when he came home because I didn’t think it was necessary, but he has moved on,” added O’Neill. “He’s made a real positive out of it and so have Linfield. Both deserve enormous credit for that and the most important thing for any young player is to play.
“The European games were excellent for him because they gave him exposure at a good level and we’ve been able to see him play a good level.
“It’s like the period Shayne had in England didn’t exist and he’s now a young Irish League player coming up the way (Stuart) Dallas, Gavin Whyte, Liam Boyce and Mark Sykes did.
“I fully expect in the not too distant future that he will get the opportunity again to come across to the UK and play full-time football.”
Lavery, who sparkled in Linfield’s stunning European run and hit a 15-minute hat-trick in the 7-0 rout of Glenavon, has a bright future at both club and international level and the Blues will be able to reflect proudly on the part they have played in helping to resurrect his career.
O’Neill’s side are three points behind the Netherlands and Germany going into the daunting double-header.
He will be anxious to keep his top players out of the treatment room, though doubts remain over the fitness of Craig Cathcart and Michael Smith.
Cathcart came off 20 minutes into Watford’s Premier League defeat to Chelsea on Saturday with a back spasm.
Hearts full-back Smith also had to be substituted during his side’s League Cup semi-final loss to Rangers on Sunday after a quad injury.
O’Neill will likely name both of the players in his panel and monitor their fitness.