Belfast Telegraph

McLaughlin eager to retain starting role

By Steven Beacom

Conor McLaughlin is determined to stay in the Northern Ireland team after winning back his place in the starting XI.

The Fleetwood Town full-back had been a regular for manager Michael O'Neill during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but after a 1-0 defeat to Poland in the first match of the finals he was dropped and didn't feature in the rest of the tournament.

The 25-year-old was selected at full-back for Sunday's opening World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, which finished 0-0 in Prague, and is hoping that O'Neill sticks with him in the Group C games to come.

"I was obviously disappointed I didn't play more in the Euros in the summer, but that was down to my own performance in the first game," said McLaughlin.

"I knew I needed to start fresh and to do well when I got the chance again in the match with the Czech Republic.

"It was pleasing to contribute to a clean sheet for the team and playing alongside quality defenders like Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans is only going to benefit me.

"It's a pleasure to play with them. They help us in training and games and it's great to learn from them."

While McLaughlin admitted that Northern Ireland were not at their best, he insisted that the point in Prague could prove valuable.

"In the second half we didn't really come out and they put the pressure on us a lot," said the Belfast man.

"They had a couple of good chances, so overall it was probably a point gained.

"It shows how far we've come that we're probably disappointed with a point away to the Czech Republic, but it gets us up and running in the group.

"It's a fresh start now. The Euros are gone and we want to make sure we prove that wasn't a one-off."

The aim now is to beat San Marino at Windsor Park next month before a trip to take on World Cup holders Germany.

"We need to go into the game with San Marino and make sure we get three points," stated McLaughlin.

"In the last campaign, against the likes of the Faroe Islands at home, we managed to get the job done. We have to make sure we don't take these games for granted and go and do it again.

"It would be great to go to Germany with four points from six. The pressure will be on them because they are favourites to win the group.

"We have to make sure we go there and give a good account of ourselves."

Belfast Telegraph


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