Belfast Telegraph

Irish League star Gavin Whyte can make a real impact for Northern Ireland, says Michael O'Neill


Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte with Iceland's Hans Viktor Guomundsson.
Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte with Iceland's Hans Viktor Guomundsson. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes Crusaders star Gavin Whyte can prosper in a full-time environment and shine on the international stage.

The Crues winger is expected to seal a cross-channel move this summer with Crawley Town, Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers among the clubs eyeing his signature.

Whyte was drafted into the senior panel for the first time ahead of Northern Ireland's upcoming trip to Central America.

"Should he get that opportunity to go into full-time football, he's equipped to hit the ground running and if he does so then, automatically, he's going to come on to my radar," said O'Neill.

"Gavin has the capability to make a real impact if given the chance. It is vital for him to get that move because you cannot be a sustained international player and part-time.

"We've watched Gavin over the past two or three years and I think the season before last he had a dip, but this season he has been exceptional.

"I was really impressed by his performances with Northern Ireland Under-21s against Spain and Iceland. He has to get into full-time football, it is the same as Liam Boyce or Stuart Dallas, anyone from an Irish League background. We can help and nurture them to get into that environment then it is about what they can do once in it.

"Certainly for Gavin it is the next step in his career.

"Back in March it was the first time we had the scenario of the Under-21s and seniors both in the same place at the same time, which was good.

"We were able to bring players up from the Under-21s and got Liam Boyce in to talk to them about his journey to get to where he is now with his career.

"Hopefully it can all switch things on for the players back here in Northern Ireland that the opportunity is there, but they have to maybe get out of the mentality of being Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday players and instead think like full-time players."

Northern Ireland's visit to Central America features games against Panama on May 30 and Costa Rica on June 3.

West Brom ace Jonny Evans has also been selected and, as he has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for £3million following the Baggies' relegation, international boss O'Neill added: "To get Jonny for £3million is a no-brainer for me. He has always been capable of being in the Premier League's top-six teams."

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