Belfast Telegraph

We don't have enough top-level talent: O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

By Ian Parker

Michael O'Neill was left to rue the lack of Premier League experience in his side after Northern Ireland's spirited display was not enough in Monday's Euro 2020 qualifying defeat to Germany.

O'Neill could only look on with envious eyes at the resources available to his opponents, who triumphed 2-0 thanks to Marcel Halstenberg's thunderbolt early in the second half and a stoppage-time second from Serge Gnabry.

This may be a new-look Germany side, featuring only two survivors from the team that beat Northern Ireland 3-1 in Belfast two years ago, but 10 of the 11 players in Joachim Low's starting XI are playing Champions League football this season.

In contrast, O'Neill had only four Premier League players in his side - three if Bailey Peacock-Farrell, yet to feature for Burnley since his summer move from Leeds, is discounted.

All three of those players - Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart and Jamal Lewis - lined up in defence, but it is in attack that Northern Ireland could use an injection of quality.

"Any international manager wants their players playing at the top level," O'Neill said. "That's more difficult for the smaller nations - Scotland, Wales, ourselves - but that's a consequence of the Premier League and I don't see that changing.

"It's great that we've got Jamal in the Premier League with Jonny and Craig, but I think that's something we're continually going to be fighting against. Realistically, it's hard to see how players can get above the Championship.

"That's fine when you're playing in the middle tier of European football, and we are in that middle tier, but when you come up against the big countries it's a different level.

"That's mostly in the final third. Our three Premier League players play in the back four and that's the challenge we face."

Peacock-Farrell may be struggling for playing time at club level but he was arguably Northern Ireland's best player.

"He played very well," O'Neill said of the 22-year-old. "He's a young goalkeeper with not a lot of experience either at international level or in first-team football. He's not had any first-team minutes for six months so I was pleased with him."

Belfast Telegraph


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