Northern Ireland squad announcements used to be pretty much run-of-the-mill affairs.
A4 sheets with the names of those selected would be handed out followed by some questions about the players, how they are performing for their clubs and a little bit about the opposing team, then handshakes all-round and away again.
Things have changed somewhat over the last couple of years.
Nowadays it seems there is more interest — and therefore more discussion — over which players aren’t in the squad rather than those who are.
It all started a couple of years ago when after perusing the list of players it was noticed that for the first time in years Keith Gillespie’s name didn’t appear.
Early last year Shane Duffy’s name was included, causing some interest and then a bit of a stir when manager Nigel Worthington revealed that the youngster had actually decided to pursue his international career with the Republic of Ireland — where his father was born.
More recently it’s been David Healy’s exclusion from the squad — he was left out for the first time in his international career for last November’s friendly with Morocco.
It was the same again yesterday when Worthington was in town to announce which players he will send out to face the Republic of Ireland and Wales in the Carling Nations Cup next week.
With many established senior players opting out of end-of-season fixtures for the third year in a row Worthington has again mixed the few experienced players he has left with young talent and some Irish League players.
Fans had hoped that Shane Ferguson — who has been impressing in Newcastle United’s first team — would be one of the youngsters involved.
Worthington had wanted to call up Daniel Devine after he broke into the Preston North End first team.
Neither will play at the Aviva Stadium next week, ironically because that’s exactly where they want to play their international football.
Devine has informed Worthington of his decision to opt for the Republic. Ferguson has yet to do so. He hasn’t responded to telephone calls from the manager, but it’s more a case of when rather than if the Londonderry-born player switches his allegiance, despite winning a senior cap against Italy two years ago.
“Myself and two other individuals within the association have left voicemail messages, sent text messages and made random calls to Shane Ferguson and they’ve never been accepted,” said Worthington.
“Shane hasn’t responded to any calls, any of the voicemails or texts and there is nothing we can do about that.
“Daniel Devine I watched a few weeks ago playing for Preston. I decided to bring him into the group and I then got a phone call last Friday to say that Daniel is opting to play for the Republic of Ireland.
“That’s something that great
ly disappoints me, as a Northern Ireland person through and through.”
The Irish FA has tried time and time again — without success — to get Fifa to enforce their eligibility rules regarding birthplace, which would stop the Republic of Ireland picking players without a bloodline.
There was no joy at the Court of Arbitration for Sport either, even though they expressed that the ruling was unfair to Northern Ireland.
“If CAS have made a statement that the ruling is unfair, then obviously something isn’t right,” said Worthington.
“How they can make a statement that the situation is unfair and not do anything about it is beyond me.
“It’s a situation that needs to be dealt with.
“Surely there’s got to be a situation where if you are producing players there should be something in place to protect your players. We don’t have many to pick from and when we do produce they are getting pinched.”
Northern Ireland Cup Squad
Jonathan Tuffey 7 caps
Alan Blayney 4 caps
Lee Hodson 2 caps
Adam Thompson 1 cap
Gareth McAuley 28 caps (Ipswich Town)
Ryan McGivern 13 caps
Colin Coates 4 caps
Craig Cathcart 3 caps
Niall McGinn 11 caps
Sammy Clingan 27 caps
Oliver Norwood 2 caps
Johnny Gorman 6 caps
Josh Carson 0 caps
Steven Davis 45 caps (Rangers)
Robert Garrett 3 caps
Stuart Dallas 0 caps
Warren Feeney 40 caps
Josh McQuoid 2 caps
Liam Boyce 2 caps
Jordan Owens 0 caps