Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill keeping tabs on Gavin Whyte and Bobby Burns after summer moves

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has welcomed the summer moves for Gavin Whyte and Bobby Burns from the Irish League to the professional ranks across the water, stating such transfers have to happen more often.

O'Neill is a champion of local players, constantly talking to figures of influence at clubs in England and Scotland about gifted youngsters coming through here.

He knows full well the greater number of players featuring at a higher standard the better it will be for Northern Ireland.

Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn have all been stalwarts of his squad after starting out in the Irish League.

Former Cliftonville hero Liam Boyce is another making his mark on the international scene, while ex-Linfield star Paul Smyth, following last year's switch to QPR, scored the winner on his Northern Ireland debut in March in a 2-1 friendly win over South Korea at Windsor Park.

Now Whyte and Burns are the latest to leave Irish League football, with the former moving from Crusaders to League One Oxford United and the latter going to Scottish Premiership side Hearts from Glenavon.

"I was delighted for both Gavin and Bobby," said O'Neill.

"Gavin has got something, no doubt about that. It will be interesting to see if he can deliver it in the full-time game.

"There is a little bit of physicality that needs to come to his game and hopefully he will hit the ground running at Oxford.

"I think Gavin could have made the step across 12 months ago, so he has lost that development time, but then over the past year he has matured much more as a person which will help him.

"I've been in touch with him to wish him all the best and I know he is determined to be a success.

"Regarding Bobby Burns, I've met him for a coffee since his move to Scotland and he is loving it at Hearts and they are really delighted with him. He has been training and playing pre-season games for the first team which is a good sign.

"What we want is more of these boys to get a move across.

"I look at a player like Mark Sykes at Glenavon and think he has a real chance."

Belfast Telegraph

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