Belfast Telegraph

'Very worthwhile': Michael O'Neill hails Northern Ireland debutants after win over Luxembourg

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill.

The fact that Tom Flanagan was the elder-statesman of Northern Ireland's central defence while earning his second cap said all you need to know about the line-up that faced Luxembourg.

The Sunderland defender partnered debutant Ciaron Brown, who was thrown into the deep end to start for the senior side just six days after his first call-up to Northern Ireland's Under 21 squad.

He would go on to be joined in the second-half by fellow debutants Alfie McCalmont (Leeds) and teenage Manchester United midfielder Ethan Galbraith.

Manager Michael O'Neill was delighted to be able to give the trio the opportunity, even if Brown's rise was hastened somewhat by an injury to Callum Morris, himself an uncapped defender.

"Ciaron was only introduced to our Under 21 squad this week and that was the first time he had joined up," said the boss.

"Sixteen months ago he was playing for Wealdstone. He moved on to Cardiff City and had a loan spell with Livingston. He got injured and didn't play much.

"The injury to Callum Morris put us in a difficult situation and I wasn't prepared to risk Jonny (Evans) or Craig (Cathcart) tonight.

"That was also only Tom's second cap and he had to be the leader in that partnership. He had a very good game and so did Jordan Thompson.

"Alfie and Ethan came off the bench. They are kids," he continued. "Ethan is an Under 19 player and will play in those finals for us next year. He is progressing for Manchester United for their U23s.

"We know what type of footballer he is. He is a lovely player, so easy on the eye. It was nice to give him the motivation and focus to kick on in his career."

There were elder statesmen involved as well, such as stand-in skipper Corry Evans, winning his 54th cap, and 31-year-old Kyle Lafferty, who started despite his late call-up to the panel.

“It was a very worthwhile exercise," O'Neill said of the game, which came four days ahead of Germany's arrival in Belfast for the Euro 2020 qualifier.

"It was a challenging three days in terms of preparation. You want a strong team, but you have more than one eye on the team for Monday.

"We had George Saville, Corry Evans, Gavin Whyte and Josh Magennis on who would potentially be starters for Monday's game.

"I was pleased with a lot of the performances. The game lacked goalmouth action, but Luxembourg have improved dramatically. They fielded the same team as they did against Ukraine in their qualifiers."

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