The value of friendly international fixtures has changed in the mind of Nigel Worthington.
He used to loathe them, now he can’t get his squad together often enough and the Northern Ireland boss is placing great importance on tonight’s Windsor Park meeting with Hungary.
The gamekeeper has turned poacher in a way as Worthington knows exactly how club managers feel when international fixtures come around at this time of the year and admits to making the most of every loophole possibly to safeguard his own players while in charge at Norwich City.
“If I was a club manager I wouldn’t want a friendly international at this time of year,” said Worthington.
“I am not a club manager, I am an international manager and this is a worthwhile exercise where we have got together for three days before the game and had good training sessions.
“The game is called a friendly, but the nature of it won’t be friendly. It’s business as usual, we’ve got to go and perform in front of our supporters, hopefully create chances and score goals.
“When I was at Norwich City there was no five-day ruling regarding international games. I exploited the situation because I was going for promotion and the players wanted promotion as well because there was going to be more money in their back-pockets at the end of the season.
“That was up to them and me — it’s horses for courses.
“There is no rule for friendlies and if any manager had rang me to say that a player wasn’t able to come it wouldn’t have been a major issue.”
It isn’t just club managers who decry friendly international games. Fans even question their worth, but Worthington is quick top point out that without games such as tonight’s there are players who would miss out on international appearances and he would miss out on deciding if they are good enough to be in his squad on a regualr basis.
In particular Derry City winger Niall McGinn, who Worthington has confirmed will make his international debut tonight.
“This is what friendlies are all about,” he said.
“Am I going to stick Naill McGinn in for his first cap against Poland or the Czech Republic, the odds say no.
“This is an ideal opportunity. If, for some reason, he doesn’t do it, can’t do it, won’t do it, he’s had a great experience.
“I have every faith in him from what I have seen, the reports that I’ve got that he will do it.”
Like a number of other players McGinn will put himself in the shop window tonight, with a number of English clubs known to be keeping a weather-eye on his development at the Brandywell.
“Niall needs that break; I do believe that there have been a number of clubs keepoing an eye on him,” said Worthington.
“If it comes then you have to make the most of it and go on from there.
“Niall is waiting for that opening and having worked with him if that opening comes he’ll have a good go at it.”
And McGinn will need that break to come if he is to challenge the likes of Keith Gillespie and Chris Brunt for a starting place in the Northern Ireland team.
“If he doesn’t get a break it makes it more difficult because the pace and power of full-time training in England — as much as Linfield and Derry City professional wise are very good — is up a notch because of the competitive quality they are playing against every week,” said Worthington.