Belfast Telegraph

Irish League stars must believe they can become internationals, says Michael O'Neill

By Gareth Hanna

The Irish League's current crop of up-and-coming players need to believe they have what it takes to reach the top.

That's the call from Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who is looking to the domestic game to provide the next batch of international stars.

Of the current Northern Ireland panel, Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas and Liam Boyce all enjoyed successful Irish League careers before moving into full-time football.

Linfield's Paul Smyth and Glenavon's Joel Cooper are both highly-rated by O'Neill and the boss says if Northern Ireland are to enjoy continued success, it must be inter-linked with the progression of those Irish League stars.

"What we need is a structure that will help our young players here domestically to realise that they can have the potential to be an international player," he said. "They can be Liam Boyce or Stuart Dallas. That's what we have to aspire to and address first.

"There is still so much that needs done within the domestic game in Northern Ireland to help us have a better pipeline of players into the UK. That's something that isn't going to be addressed in the short-term. We need a much more combined view of thinking to get our best young players in the Irish League into better levels of football in England.

"The challenge to play in England is massive. It's getting higher all the time. We have five players playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League. When they come to the end of their careers, will we have five players to replace them? At this minute in time, the answer is no."

O'Neill was speaking at the draw for the group stages of the UEFA Women's Under 19 Championship, where Northern Ireland was place in Group A alongside Germany, Scotland and Spain.

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