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Will Grigg has Northern Ireland future along with Brunt and McAuley: O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill has spoken about the international futures of Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley and Will Grigg, insisting that he wants all three to play a part in Northern Ireland's bid to qualify for the Euro 2020 finals.

West Brom ace Brunt is considering his future at the highest level, defender McAuley is currently without a club having left the Baggies in the summer and Wigan striker Grigg has not played for his country since November 2016.

Northern Ireland's next fixture is on September 8 at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina in the new Uefa Nations League - followed by a friendly with Israel three days later - with the qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championships kicking off in March next year.

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, O'Neill spoke about the importance of set-pieces at the World Cup and international football. Given how useful Brunt is in that area of the game, it is little wonder that he is giving the WBA ace as much time as possible to decide on his future.

Brunt's last international was in the World Cup play-off last year versus Switzerland.

"I have kept in contact with Chris and I'll have a chat with him before we name the squad for the September matches and see where he is at," stated O'Neill.

"It's his decision and, as I've said to him, there is no time frame on it. He knows how much I still want him to be part of the squad and how important he is in the squad.

"It was probably not to our benefit West Brom going down from the Premier League because the Championship is a slog with 46 games, and a lot of them are in midweek, but I'll talk to him in the next few weeks and we'll see what develops."

On Brunt's former club-mate McAuley, a heroic figure with Northern Ireland supporters, O'Neill said: "I look at Gareth and he is still such a vital player for us. I just hope he gets something sorted club wise.

"I'm sure he has options and hope he gets the right options for him and for us because it is important for us that Gareth continues.

"Even when he was away on our Central American tour, despite not playing too much for West Brom last season you could see in the two matches he played that he is still capable of playing on at international level."

There has been much debate about Grigg's place in the squad but O'Neill fully intends to call him up again.

"People forget that one of the reasons Will hasn't played for us in a while is that he was injured for several months of that period," said O'Neill.

"I spoke to Will before our South Korea game in March. At that time his club were going for promotion to the Championship. I had a team in my head for the South Korea match so I could have brought Will on, giving him 10 or 15 minutes at the end, but that would have meant him missing his club match, so I spoke to him and his manager Paul Cook and thought I would leave it and look at things again in the summer.

"When the summer came around I wanted to give Liam Boyce a chance to play on our Central American tour and that's why I didn't take Will Grigg.

"I can select Will for the games in September, and it is up to him, but at no point has he said he isn't coming. Will is in the Championship with Wigan this season and it will be interesting to see how he does. I'm hoping he does really well."

On the chances of following up the incredible run to the Euro 2016 finals with another qualification for the tournament, O'Neill stated: "There are a lot of positives moving forward for us. We need a little bit of freshness in the squad but I do think as a team a lot of the qualities which have got us where we are will still be there in the team and I'm hopeful that we can qualify for Euro 2020.

"Before the Euro qualifiers I want players such as Jamal Lewis and Jordan Jones to gain more experience, and having Paddy McNair and Craig Cathcart back from injury is a big plus, and of course we still have high quality players like Steven Davis and Jonny Evans.

"We will need someone to emerge to score goals, like Kyle Lafferty did in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign when he hit seven.

"In our World Cup qualifiers Kyle and Josh Magennis were our top scorers on three, yet we were very close to making it, so if we could add goals that would be a big boost."

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