Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland squad: Liam Donnelly returns but Lafferty and Lavery left out for games against Luxembourg and Germany

Liam Donnelly
Liam Donnelly

Motherwell midfielder Liam Donnelly and Ross County defender Callum Morris are back in the Northern Ireland squad but there is no place for Shayne Lavery.

Michael O'Neill has named a 25-man panel for the upcoming friendly at home to Luxembourg next Thursday (September 5) and the Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany at Windsor Park (Monday, September 9).

Left out are striker Kyle Lafferty, defender Gareth McAuley, midfielder Mark Sykes and Linfield's Lavery, who had been expected to be added to the panel.

Donnelly has been in sparkling form this season after moving into midfield.

The former Dungannon Swifts man became Northern Ireland U21s' record appearance holder at centre-half but, shifted forward by Motherwell boss Steven Robinson, Donnelly has scored seven goals in seven games this season.

O'Neill is understood to have been at Celtic Park earlier this month to see the 23-year-old score twice in his side's defeat to the Hoops.

It's over five years since Donnelly's only senior cap to date, when he came off the bench as an 89th minute substitute in a 2-0 defeat in Chile.

"Liam's a player that we've had for a long time in the system. I remember working with him when he was  only about 15 or 16 after I took the job," said O'Neill.

"He went to Fulham with a great reputation and was a big part of their youth set-up but his career took a little bit of a twist. He had to rebuild his career after a spell at hartlepool. It was through his connection with Stephen Robinson that he ended up at Motherwell.

"He didn't have a great year last year, to be honest but he has played consistently well for our U21s.

"This season at Motherwell he has played extremely well with a change in position. He's playing more as a defensive midfielder despite the goals. I've watched him on a couple of occasions and it's good to have him in. He's a young player with huge potential."

Linfield forward Lavery has scored four goals in his last three games for Linfield, his brace against Qarabag last week thought to have been enough to seal his spot in the squad.

Just nine games into his stint at the Blues, the 20-year-old has earned rave reviews and has even been tipped for a move back to an English Premier League club by Linfield manager David Healy.

However, he has been left out of O'Neill's squad, along with fellow striker Kyle Lafferty. Norwegian club Sarpsborg 08, currently bottom of the Eliteserien, announced the signing of the 31-year-old on Tuesday. He could be in line for a club debut at home to Viking on Sunday and will look to boost his international chances with a return to form in Norway.

Instead, the forward options are made up of Liam Boyce, fresh from his League Cup hat-trick for Burton Albion, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington and Paul Smyth.

Washington has scored two goals in seven appearances since moving to Hearts this summer, while Magennis has netted once in his first five games for Hull and Paul Smyth has one goal in three for League One side Wycombe, who he joined on loan from QPR.

There is no place for Gareth McAuley, still a free agent after leaving Rangers at the end of last season. With Aaron Hughes now retired and Daniel Ballard injured, Callum Morris has been called back into the squad for the first time since 2017.

The 29-year-old is still hoping to earn a first cap after remaining on the bench for four World Cup qualifiers. Born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Morris' father is from Belfast. He played underage football for the Republic of Ireland, with his mother's side of the family from Waterford, but switched his international allegiance before earning his first NI call-up in 2016.

"Callum is playing in the SPFL and is an experienced player at that level," said O'Neill. "When he has come into the squad before he has fitted in quite easily. I saw him playing for Ross County recently against Hearts and he kept Conor Washington quiet that day. He did well in the game and we are not blessed with many options in that position."

In the goalkeeping options, Trevor Carson replaces Conor Hazard, named alongside Michael McGovern and Bailey Peacock-Farrell. None of the goalkeepers in the squad, or Hazard, have played a minute of first team football this season.

In midfield, there is no place for Oxford United's Mark Sykes as Niall McGinn returns to join Donnelly.

There are five Premier League players in the panel; Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Michael McGovern, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart and Jamal Lewis.

The remaining players come from the Championship (seven), League One (five) and the Scottish Premiership (eight).

Northern Ireland, of course, are top of Group C after four consecutive wins. However, with four games against Germany and the Netherlands to come, Michael O'Neill's men still face a massive fight to secure automatic qualification for the finals.

Northern Ireland squad in full

Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Trevor Carson

Defenders: Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin, Jamal Lewis, Michael Smith, Tom Flanagan, Callum Norris

Midfielders: Steven Davis, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, George Saville, Jordan Jones, Gavin Whyte, Jordan Thompson, Liam Donnelly

Forwards: Josh Magennis, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce, Paul Smyth

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