Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough believes Glentoran hero Conor McMenamin can still seal a big move to England or Scotland.
Baraclough has rewarded the dangerous winger with a first call-up to the senior squad after being impressed by the 26-year-old during the four-day training camp in England.
The former Cliftonville man is among four new call-ups to the panel for the demanding Nations League quadruple-header.
Huddersfield Town defender Brodie Spencer, Man City midfielder Shea Charles and Rangers midfielder Charlie McCann are also in the senior international squad for the first time.
McMenamin has enjoyed a brilliant season for the Glens, scoring 22 goals, but there is so much more to his game, including creative wing play and assists.
At the age of 26 he may have thought an international call-up was out of reach, as well as a move across the water, but Baraclough thinks otherwise.
“He’s still developing as a player, he’s only 26 and they say the prime of a player is around 28, 29 so he’s got a few years to get even better and he may get a move,” said Baraclough as he named his squad yesterday.
“Glentoran fans won’t be thankful of me saying that but going to Scotland or England to play is not out of his reach.
“This is a message to everyone wherever they play, they still have a chance and I will give players from the Irish League an opportunity. We haven’t a big enough pool of players that allows us to discount anyone.
“Conor has got a great attitude to the game. It was touch and go whether he would make the camp as he had a sore groin following the play-off final defeat to Larne but you wouldn’t have known it. The determination to be there and desire to be part of it was obvious and the call-up took him by surprise.
“He certainly wasn’t a rabbit in the headlights when he came into the camp and he’s a good age, he can certainly get better.”
Northern Ireland open their Group C2 campaign against Greece at Windsor Park on Thursday night before facing Cyprus away three days later.
Baraclough’s side then face another away fixture, against Kosovo, on Thursday, June 9 before their fourth fixture at home to Cyprus three days later.
McMenamin spoke of his pride after learning of his first senior call-up.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “The manager rang me on Saturday and I was buzzing, as are my mum and dad.
“It was a good feeling and great reward for the season I’ve had. I’m scoring goals and feeling confident. The full-time training has also really helped me. It was great to train with the boys and it’s great for the Irish League. If you’re doing well, you will be noticed, and the manager is not afraid to select an Irish League player. The league is improving and it’s a dream come true to represent your country.”
For players like McMenamin who perhaps thought they wouldn’t be part of the shake-up, there’s an opportunity to impress Baraclough as well as several other observers.
“It’s a shop window for the players,” said the Northern Ireland chief. “Whatever age group they are, they know there’s a pathway into the senior team and on the first day of the training camp at St George’s I put on the screen the games we have in June — four Nations League games, two games for the Under-21s against Spain at home and Slovakia away, and two friendlies that the 19s have in Malta — which games do you want to be involved in?
“Everyone to a man said they wanted to be in the Nations League squad and I think one or two of them felt they might have been looking towards the Under-21s like Brodie Spencer and Shea Charles.
“They have shown enough in the training camp to show me their worth and that they can be part of a senior squad. There’s no pressure on the young players and although these are competitive fixtures, the lads need experience and they can step up like Dan Ballard and Ali McCann have.”
Striker Kyle Lafferty returns after impressing for Kilmarnock but Hearts pair Liam Boyce and Michael Smith have once again made themselves unavailable for selection.
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis still has to resolve his club future and his international boss is confident he can keep delivering for Scottish Cup winners Rangers.
“I haven’t had conversations on his contract talks and whether he has spoken to other clubs but if Davo is fit and firing like we know he can I see no reason why he can’t sign a new deal for Rangers and have a massive impact in their season next year,” he said.
“There will be many managers interested in a top player who is still playing at a very high level. He showed in the two cup finals that he still has a big part to play for club and country. We can benefit from the fact he hasn’t played as much as he hoped to this year and hopefully he brings that youthful exuberance to our squad.
“Steven and Jonny (Evans) are positives in the sense that they haven’t had full seasons. Jonny has had injuries but now he is getting regular game time and Steven had a great end to the season.”
Rotherham United, meanwhile, have completed the signing of Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington following his release from Charlton.
The forward will officially join when the transfer window opens on July 1.
And defender Jonny Evans is in line for a one-year contract extension at Leicester City.