Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill banking on Northern Ireland young guns to seize golden chance

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill is hoping he has found the perfect blend of youth and experience ahead of the trip to Central America, and the stage is set for a few fresh faces to take a first significant step in successful senior international careers.

Crusaders ace Gavin Whyte and Scunthorpe loanee Cameron McGeehan have been called up for Northern Ireland's clashes in Panama and Costa Rica, along with young goalkeepers Conor Hazard (Celtic) and Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United).

The uncapped quartet are joined in the squad by keeper Trevor Carson and strikers Paul Smyth and Shay McCartan who have all made one senior appearance.

A number of senior players will not feature - including Will Grigg, Conor Washington, Kyle Lafferty, Michael McGovern, Jamie Ward and captain Steven Davis - allowing rising stars to make an impact against England's World Cup opponents Panama on May 30 and Costa Rica in San Jose on June 3.

"The younger players in that squad may or may not get game-time but have that introduction to the senior group and a chance to go away on tour," he added.

"I could have filled those six spaces with experienced players who would have been kicking their heels annoyed at not playing.

"It makes more sense to do it like this, and there are one or two others on the periphery, particularly in the Under-21s, we are thinking about if we had any withdrawals would we fill the squad more with a younger player and we probably would."

West Brom pair Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley have been selected but their club-mate Chris Brunt is not included as he continues to weigh up his international future.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Trevor Carson (Motherwell), Conor Hazard (Celtic), Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds)

Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonathan Evans (West Brom), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Luke McCullough (Doncaster), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall)

Midfielders: Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Cameron McGeehan (Scunthorpe - loan), Patrick McNair (Sunderland), Oliver Norwood (Fulham - loan), George Saville (Millwall), Gavin Whyte (Crusaders)

Forwards: Liam Boyce (Burton), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Shay McCartan (Bradford), Paul Smyth (QPR).

Belfast Telegraph

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