Northern Ireland can attract raft of new international stars, says Gareth McAuley
Veteran defender Gareth McAuley insists playing for Northern Ireland is now an attractive proposition and a quick-fire way to enhance your club career.
McAuley remembers going through the dire times for the men in green when it was a struggle to convince new talent to declare for Northern Ireland.
But having reached the knock-out stages of the Euros two years ago and the 2018 World Cup play-offs, 38-year-old McAuley, capped 79 times, believes Northern Ireland’s stock has risen so much that there could be a number of new faces, through the eligibility ruling, available to boss Michael O’Neill for the inaugural Nations League games against Bosnia and Austria which kick-off in September.
Huddersfield’s former Republic of Ireland full-back Sean Scannell has already opted to switch allegiance, while QPR midfielder Sean Goss and Partick defender Niall Keown are considering offers from O’Neill.
They could be joined by some of the young guns who starred for Northern Ireland on the two-match tour of Central America.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jordan Thompson, Shayne Lavery and Conor Hazard all made their debuts, while QPR striker Paul Smyth earned his second cap.
McAuley said: “There’s a few other lads who have got paperwork submitted who want to come and play. That’s great for the country going forward.
“We want to produce more players through the Under-21s and the youth set-up.
“The future’s bright going forward. It’s that feel-good factor that everyone now wants to be a part of.”
McAuley knows this Central American trip may not produce an immediate star for boss O'Neill, but is adamant Northern Ireland will reap the benefits in years to come.
"You're around people all the time, different people," stated McAuley. "The lads feel comfortable the next time they come into the squad. There are no egos in our squad anyway, but it's just about feeling comfortable with people.
"We've spent 10 days with each other and got to know each other. From that perspective, it's good. Also, they get a feel for Michael, how the coaching works, how he wants to play, how he trains, what he expects from training.
"All of those things, going forward, are real positives from this trip because throughout the season in international football you don't get together a lot. Further down the line we're finding these games and tours in the summer beneficial."