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How Grant McCann put Kyle Vassell in line for Northern Ireland call-up



Kyle Vassell has been called up to the Northern Ireland squad.

Kyle Vassell has been called up to the Northern Ireland squad.

Robbie Stephenson/JMP/REX/Shutte

Kyle Vassell has been called up to the Northern Ireland squad.

Northern Ireland's newest forward has revealed that Grant McCann refused to let him miss out on his chance to play for the GAWA.

Milton Keynes-born Vassell, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through his mother’s dad from Lisnaskea in Fermanagh, joins Josh Magennis, Will Grigg and Liam Boyce as the fit strikers available to boss O’Neill for the clash with Austria.

The 25-year old’s selection for the squad ends a long wait for Vassell.

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He first came to the attention of O’Neill and Northern Ireland’s chief scout Andy Cousins while playing for Peterborough between 2013 and 2016, where Sandy Row lad McCann, who had won 39 caps for Northern Ireland, was a former player and then manager.

“When I was at Peterborough I was pretty close with Grant McCann, so he knew about my background and he told Andy Cousins, who had come to see Michael Smith at right-back,” admitted Vassell.

“Grant told me it’s a great country to play for and as well as being close I always kind of admired him as well.

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“He made it pretty clear: ‘If you get the opportunity, you’re taking it’.

“That was a couple of years ago now, then I met the gaffer (Michael O’Neill) earlier this year when I was at Blackpool and he said I wasn’t far away.

“This time around I’ve been fortunate enough to make the squad. I’m delighted and I’m definitely going to take my opportunity.”

O’Neill, whether it is Lafferty or Josh Magennis, is keen on a big, strong striker leading his line in attack.

Vassell, who is the younger cousin of former Aston Villa, Manchester City and England striker Darius Vassell, insists he fits that bill and would be prepared to create havoc if given his chance to shine.

The forward, who is yet to score for The Millers in the Championship this season after netting 13 times for Blackpool last term, said: “I’d say physically I’m strong, powerful and quick enough.

“Also the thing with me is I’m very determined and I don’t like losing, so I’ve always got a bit extra in me to try and win, to be on the winning team.

“I’m going to try and enjoy it. I’m going to have to run around, maybe kick a few people, and, if I get a chance, score a goal — and then build on that.”

Vassell, knowing he was on the radar of O’Neill, watched the Euro 2016 finals with interest along with Northern Ireland’s progression in the World Cup qualifiers — which ended in heartache in the play-offs.

The former non-league striker says he would love to emulate his big cousin Darius, who played for England at the 2002 World Cup finals and two years at the European Championship finals.

“That’s what I’m here for,” says Vassell.

“As a kid you dream of the World Cup and European Championships, you always dream of the biggest tournaments. The Euros is absolutely one of them.

“I 100% want to get there and the fact that we already have, and we have a great team. The boys are brilliant as well, I want to say that.

“They’re such a great group of lads and not many probably know who I am.

“But they’ve all made me feel like they know who I am and where I’ve played and that’s such a good feeling.

“I want to do the best I can in a Northern Ireland shirt to make my mum and my family proud.”

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