Northern Ireland squad in full: Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard earns first senior call-up
Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard has been given his first call-up to Northern Ireland's senior squad.
The 19-year-old Arsenal centre back has been included in a 27-strong panel for next week’s games at the National Football Stadium in Belfast, boss Michael O'Neill keen to give the promising player experience at the top level.
Northern Ireland host Estonia (Thursday, March 21) and Belarus (Sunday, March 24) in their opening fixtures of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Ballard captained Arsenal's youth team last season and this term he has been a regular in the club's U23 team, managed by former Sweden and Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg.
He has played four times for Northern Ireland U21s and was the goal-scoring hero back in October, when he netted a last minute winner to beat Iceland in Reykjavik.
Ballard is one of three changes to the squad that faced the Republic of Ireland and Austria in November. The two returning faces are Sunderland striker Will Grigg, who missed out on the last squad due to injury, and Sheffield United forward Conor Washington. They replace injured attacking duo Jamie Ward and Kyle Vassell.
While the midfield is unchanged with in-form Sheffield United playmaker Oliver Norwood is not included due to personal reasons, Ballard comes into defence in place of injured Hearts defender Michael Smith. Motherwell's Trevor Carson is recovering from the DVT injury detected following the internationals in November, leaving three goalkeepers in the panel.
The 27 players in the @NorthernIreland squad come from the following league:— Marshall Gillespie (@NIStats) March 12, 2019
3 Premier League
6 League One
6 Scottish Premiership
1 Scottish Championship
Veteran Rangers defender Gareth McAuley has been included in the squad despite having treatment on a calf injury in recent weeks.
Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, currently on loan at Partick Thistle, Queen’s Park Rangers winger Paul Smyth, who is out on loan at Accrington Stanley, and Blackpool midfielder Jordan Thompson have retained their places in the panel after receiving call-ups last time out.
The side hasn't won a competitive fixture since a 2-0 home victory over the Czech Republic back in September 2017. Since then, 13 matches have brought eight defeats, three draws and friendly wins over Korea Republic and Israel.
Northern Ireland squad to face Estonia and Belarus
Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United), Conor Hazard (Celtic).
Defenders: Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (Glasgow Rangers), Jonathan Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), Jamal Lewis (Norwich City), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Daniel Ballard (Arsenal).
Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), George Saville (Middlesbrough, loan), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), Gavin Whyte (Oxford United), Jordan Thompson (Blackpool).
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Rangers), Josh Magennis (Bolton Wanderers), Liam Boyce (Burton Albion), Paul Smyth (Queens Park Rangers), Will Grigg (Sunderland), Conor Washington (Sheffield United)
Belfast Telegraph Digital