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Northern Ireland: Brunt weighing up his options but Grigg is still keen, maintains Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Chris Brunt and Will Grigg declined the opportunity to join the Northern Ireland squad to face South Korea, but Michael O’Neill has left the door open for the duo at different ends of the international spectrum.

West Brom’s Brunt (33) has been around at the highest level since 2004, winning 65 caps to date. He is taking a break to consider his future after playing the best football of his international career in the last World Cup qualifying campaign.

Wigan striker Grigg has yet to establish himself in the Northern Ireland side. The 26-year-old has opted to miss the March 24 friendly at Windsor Park to play for his club, who are chasing promotion from League One.

O’Neill is unsure if Brunt will return, but insists Grigg wants to be part of his plans.

“I met Chris last Thursday and we had a good conversation. I fully understand he is taking a break from international football at the moment,” said O’Neill.

“He has his own club situation to focus on. It is a difficult position West Brom are in so that dialogue will remain open and we will see what his thoughts are in September. The Nations League then is important but the real priority will be in March 2019 (Euro 2020 qualifiers begin).”

Asked if club-mates Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans could help persuade Brunt to continue, O’Neill stated: “He shares a dressing room every day with Gareth and Jonny so I’m sure they discuss it. You always exert whatever influence you can. Chris is valuable to us. It would be a huge positive if he plays on, but if he doesn’t I’ll respect that.”

On Grigg, O’Neill said: “I also spoke to Will last week. He was very keen to be involved but League One games will be played on that Saturday and Will thought that he would be better staying with Wigan at this time. With the summer tour to Panama and Costa Rica, we can look at the situation then.”

Norwich left-back Jamal Lewis and Celtic keeper Conor Hazard, on loan at Falkirk, are the rookies.

With Roy Carroll injured and Alan Mannus deciding to step away, Hazard joins No.1 Michael McGovern and uncapped Trevor Carson in the squad. Carson’s sensational form for Motherwell could earn him some game time. Impressive Lewis (20) is also in line for a senior debut.

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