Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: Lavery or Lafferty could still earn late Northern Ireland call-up ahead of matches against Luxembourg and Germany

Michael O'Neill isn't ruling out late call-ups for Shayen lavery or Kyle Lafferty.
Michael O'Neill isn't ruling out late call-ups for Shayen lavery or Kyle Lafferty.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Michael O'Neill has not ruled out bolstering his attacking options after leaving Shayne Lavery and Kyle Lafferty out of his initial Northern Ireland squad for the upcoming home double header.

Luxembourg visit Windsor Park for a friendly next Thursday (September 5), before Germany come to Belfast for the eagerly anticipated Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday, September 9.

Lavery has scored four goals in his last three games for Linfield, including a brace against Qarabag on Thursday in the Europa League.

It had been thought that could well have been enough to earn him a recall to Northern Ireland's senior ranks.

O'Neill has named just four strikers in his 25-man panel, as Liam Boyce is joined by Josh Magennis, Paul Smyth and Conor Washington.

Lavery, initially at least, will join up with the U21 panel for their UEFA U21 Championship qualifiers against Malta and Finland, but O'Neill hasn't closed the door on a potential senior switch during the international window.

"We have watched him and we already know him very well," the boss said. "Listen, there is the option to bring Shayne in from the Under 21s. It is simple as that.

"I know you all wanted the headline that Shayne had been included in the squad, but he isn't in the squad. But we will bring him up from the U21s if needs be."

Lafferty, on the other hand, hasn't played yet this season but could make his debut for his new Norwegian side Sarpsborg 08 on Sunday, when they host Viking in the Eliteserien.

"He hasn't done any specific football training for five or six weeks so I just think with a game of the stature of Germany, he wouldn't be ready to come in and play," said O'Neill, without totally ruling out a late call-up.

"We'll monitor that situation and see how the week develops because there's always the option to call him in but the main thing is that he gets playing with his new club.

"He's only there for a short period of time, an 11-game spell, so there would be a risk bringing him in. If we was to pick up an injury it would mean that he misses part of that time with Sarpsborg, which isn't going to help us either."

Lafferty's latest move abroad follows previous spells at Sion in Switzerland, Palermo in Italy and Rizespor in Turkey.

"I find his move to Norway interesting," O'Neill said of the player who hasn't scored for Northern Ireland since November 2016.

"The most important thing for me is that Kyle is playing. He has had a habit in the past of having little trips abroad, which we know of.

"I am a little surprised he has moved to Norway, but at the end of the day he has made the decision to go.

"His new club are struggling at the bottom of the table, so it is a big challenge for him. But they see Kyle as a key player and potentially turning their season around.

"Kyle just needs to get on the pitch, and the most important thing he gets playing again."

Another notable omission from the panel is centre-back Gareth McAuley, who is still without a club since leaving Rangers.

O'Neill said, however, that the 39-year-old still has an international future if he goes back into club football.

"He's obviously keeping himself fit but it would be unfair to ask gareth to come in and play. We've been speaking on a weekly basis but he felt and I felt that it was the right decision at the minute," said the boss. "He has to decide whether he's going to continue and look for a new club. Hopefully that's the case and he's back with us soon."

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