Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill tips Liverpool star Ryan McLaughlin to make an impact

By Steven Beacom

Liverpool's teenage defender Ryan McLaughlin has committed himself to playing for Northern Ireland.

The 19-year-old is one of five uncapped players in Michael O'Neill's squad for the South American tour and is in line to make his full international debut against Uruguay and club mate Luis Suarez at the end of the month.

McLaughlin has been in Northern Ireland squads before but after telling manager O'Neill last year that he didn't wish to be considered for selection and wanted to focus on his club career, speculation raged about the possibility of him opting to play for the Republic of Ireland instead.

Now the right back has returned to the fold and O'Neill believes he is back for good.

"There has been an ongoing situation with Ryan but he's made himself available and wants to play for Northern Ireland and this tour is a great chance for him to stake his claim for a place in our squad on a permanent basis," said O'Neill.

The forthcoming games against Uruguay and Chile are friendlies, and not World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, which means McLaughlin could still switch allegiance and play for the Republic, but O'Neill adds: "I believe Ryan is committed to playing for Northern Ireland. He wouldn't be coming away with us if he wasn't and is a good addition to our squad.

"Ryan is a young player coming through and we are keen to nurture our best youngsters and help them improve.

"We only really have one natural right back in Lee Hodson so Ryan automatically provides competition for that position. He can also play as a wing back which I feel is his best position."

Belfast-born McLaughlin was on loan with Barnsley earlier in the season and there is the very real prospect that he could be loaned out again next season by Liverpool in order to gain more first team opportunities.

O'Neill, who has spoken in the past about McLaughlin with Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, says: "I think he will go out on loan again which could be good for him. Liverpool will strengthen in the summer and the challenge for Ryan to progress there will be more difficult but going on loan would give him a chance to impress."

McLaughlin's older brother Conor would have been in the Northern Ireland squad but for Fleetwood making the League Two Play-off final. Burton Albion's Adam McGurk was in the same position. O'Neill is still weighing up whether to bring the pair out after the Fleetwood v Burton game at Wembley next Monday.

The other uncapped players heading to Uruguay and Chile are Portsmouth goalkeeper Trevor Carson, Dundee United's Paul Paton, Doncaster defender Luke McCullough and 18-year-old Fulham ace Liam Donnelly.

McCullough, whose dad Dean played with O'Neill at Coleraine, and Donnelly are interesting choices.

"I've been watching Liam since he played in our under-16 team. He captained the Fulham side that made the Youth Cup final and I believe he has real potential," said O'Neill.

"With Fulham dropping to the Championship, hopefully Liam will get his chance. Luke is another who has something about him and has become a first team player at Doncaster. Going to South America will be a great learning experience for all the youngsters."

Belfast Telegraph


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