Linfield hero Andy Waterworth will choose country over club should the Uefa Under-19 European Championship qualifiers go ahead next month.
Alongside former international stars Roy Carroll and Gareth McAuley, Waterworth, likely to be a key figure in tonight's Big Two league game against Glentoran at Windsor Park, was named in new Northern Ireland Under-17 and 19 manager Gerard Lyttle's backroom team at the weekend, providing the 34-year-old striker with a dilemma early in his coaching role.
Northern Ireland are scheduled to play three group matches in Sweden in late March in the Uefa Under-19 European Championship at the same time as league leaders Linfield have crucial Danske Bank Premiership fixtures.
It is understood that Waterworth is set to opt to go with Northern Ireland, which will be a blow to the Blues, leading to the highly rated forward missing trips to Ballymena on March 23 and Portadown four days later.
Linfield, who are well aware of the situation, will hope Waterworth is available for their crunch away game at Crusaders on March 19, though that may depend on when the Irish FA party have to arrive in Sweden.
Northern Ireland's Group Three campaign starts against the Swedes on March 24, with another qualifier versus Austria on March 27 prior to finishing against Gibraltar on March 30.
As a result, Lyttle's goalkeeping coach Carroll is in line to be absent for Dungannon Swifts for their league encounters at home to Crusaders (March 23) and Glenavon (March 30), plus a visit to Ballymena on March 27.
There is also the possibility 43-year-old Carroll, who has made such a positive impact since his January arrival at Stangmore Park, could miss the meeting with Portadown on March 20.
While Carroll’s absence will be felt by Swifts, with no relegation from the top flight this season it won’t mean as much to Dungannon as Waterworth missing matches when there is a championship up for grabs.
Ironically, the first league game back for Carroll and Waterworth — who has been offered a new deal to stay at Windsor Park next season — could be against each other with Dungannon hosting Linfield on April 3.
The Blues and Swifts will keep a close eye on developments regarding the Euro Under-19 tournament. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Uefa decided that qualifying for the 13 groups would take place over a week in March, with fixtures being staged in the home country of one of the participating teams from each group. For Northern Ireland, that means Sweden, with other matches due to be played all over the continent from Spain to Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland to Croatia.
Given restrictions with Covid-19, there are many in football who are pessimistic that any group matches will take place next month, with Uefa’s Executive Committee expected to make a decision soon.
New Under-19 boss Lyttle is keen for the games to go ahead, feeling his players can show up well in their section. The winner of each group would accompany top seeds Portugal in play-offs in May and June, which will produce seven qualifiers who would join hosts Romania for the finals from June 30 to July 13.
Last year, Uefa cancelled the 2020 Under-19 European Championship finals which were set to be hosted in Northern Ireland.
Lyttle is delighted with his new backroom staff, believing that their experience and coaching ability will greatly benefit the youngsters in both the Under-17 and Under-19 squads.
Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey accepts the Danske Bank Premiership season may have to be cut short but he's determined to make the most of this precious time while the game continues.