Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill right to sound fitness alert: McGinn

By Graham Luney

Niall McGinn says Michael O'Neill is right to hit the players with a fitness warning while their Euro 2016 dream is on the line.

Northern Ireland take on Qatar at Crewe's Gresty Road tomorrow (5pm) followed by a behind-closed-doors date with the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on June 4.

But every training session and friendly scrap is warming up the troops for the battle that counts - the huge Group F showdown with Romania at Windsor Park on June 13.

And O'Neill, who has given his men fitness programmes to follow, says he will not tolerate any complacency with the prize of reaching a first major tournament in 30 years within reach.

The Northern Ireland boss said: "The biggest thing is that if a player turns up and has not looked after himself or is not in shape, he won't be in the squad going forward.

"That would be a very stupid thing for any player to do given what we could hopefully be involved with down the line. The players have to be ready to play."

Aberdeen winger McGinn says O'Neill was right to lay down the law as the consequences of any slacking off could be severe.

"It's very important that all the players are fit and ready to be called upon to do a job," said the 27-year-old. "I've just finished the season and am happy to get quickly back into the swing of things with Northern Ireland but some of the boys maybe haven't played in a while and you can lose a bit of sharpness.

"Michael is going about things the right way and his job is to keep the players in the right frame of mind and physical condition.

"We are coming into the final few matches of the qualifying group and the players have a job to do and they need to be ready to do it. The squad will be used and everyone must be ready to step up." After a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign, belief and confidence have returned to Northern Ireland ranks and there is now a healthy competition for places.

McGinn says a dream start to their Euro 2016 assault - a 2-1 victory in Hungary when goals from the former Celtic ace and Kyle Lafferty got the show on the road - was the perfect springboard for a memorable campaign.

"I think we have a massive chance of qualifying now for the finals in France next summer and not many people would have said that at the outset," added the Donaghmore man. "We were looking for a bit of luck and consistency in this campaign and we have got it. Winning away from home in Hungary and Greece were huge bonuses for us because we know at Windsor Park we can beat anyone. Winning matches also breeds confidence and now we are in a great position.

"The matches against Qatar and the Republic will allow Michael (O'Neill) to try different formations and systems."

McGinn was in Belfast last week where he helped launch his new Failte restaurant on Castle Street and also dropped into Holy Cross Boys' School.

"What an inspirational environment," said McGinn afterwards.

"The future is safe in their hands."

His restaurant business, which he runs with agent Gerry Carlisle, is also booming with Failte on the Falls Road, and now in the city centre, a popular destination for those with good taste but for a short while next summer McGinn hopes to be sampling some French cuisine.

Belfast Telegraph


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