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O'Neill sees value of U21 players

Northern Ireland Under-21s take on Hungary on Wednesday night with a promise of greater honours sooner rather than later if they impress.

Stephen Robinson takes charge of the side for the second time in the Tatabanya friendly but, like his predecessor Steve Beaglehole, he knows that providing a production line to Michael O'Neill's senior side is his priority.

O'Neill's predecessor Nigel Worthington frequently called on young players to balance his squads and O'Neill has followed suit so far, giving the likes of Shane Ferguson, Oliver Norwood and Will Grigg their head against Holland in June and calling up 17-year-old Liverpool full-back Ryan McLaughlin for Wednesday's home clash with Finland.

McLaughlin has been forced out of the match with a hip injury but O'Neill has held him up as an example and wants others to catch the management's eye and make the step up.

"The under-21s are very important to us," he said. "We'll probably see one or two more players pushed through over the campaign because what we do find, with what we have and the resources available to us, is our better players almost skip under-21 level and go through to the seniors.

"I was at the last game against Macedonia so I was able to see first hand the performance and the training as well.

"(In McLaughlin) I saw a player with loads of potential who was capable, if the opportunity came, of maximising his opportunity. We have a number of players who have played international football before they have played a lot of club football and to be honest that will continue to be the case.

"So the under-21s and the under-19s are very important to us. We hope to maximise what we can get from that group because I think they are going to get their chance at international level probably sooner than they expect."

Among those looking to impress are Swansea's Rory Donnelly, an unused substitute against Holland, Leicester's 18-year-old midfielder Joey Jones and Rangers' Andrew Mitchell.

Robinson has three Irish League players in his squad, Glentoran's Jim O'Hanlon and goalkeepers Conor Devlin and Ross Glendinning, while Derry duo Shane McEleney and David McDaid represent the League of Ireland.

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