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Gareth McAuley admits a lack of pre-season has hurt him

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland and Rangers defender Gareth McAuley has revealed why he's had such a troubled start to the season.

The defender, who finally made his Ibrox bow as a substitute in the 7-1 thrashing of Motherwell at the weekend, admits that a lack of a proper pre-season has held him back at the start of the campaign.

After being released at the end of last season by West Brom, McAuley went without a club until he was picked up by the Light Blues at the start of the new campaign.

Having made the switch to the Scottish Premiership in September, McAuley had to wait for his Rangers debut due to persistent injuries and then a lack of fitness, which also ruled him out of a couple of Northern Ireland squads.

But now the 38-year old is back on the pitch, and he's eager to become an integral part of what Steven Gerrard is trying to achieve in Glasgow.

"I have enjoyed it and it has been hard work," said McAuley. In hindsight, I should have gone in somewhere and done pre-season properly, but here I have done the hard work and I feel fit and ready to go.

"I thoroughly enjoyed (the Motherwell game), the whole occasion. The display before the game and how the game was going before getting on the pitch, it was very, very pleasing to get out there and to experience it.

"The focus was really on the three points, doing well and the performance. Obviously they went to 10-men and then it was about us being ruthless and relentless, keeping the foot on the gas and keeping going, keeping the pressure on and getting more goals.

"It was a good day and a good confidence-builder. The ruthlessness of it was pleasing and, hopefully I can kick on, compete and get more appearances."

Centre-back McAuley is now back in Northern Ireland preparing for their doubleheader against the Republic of Ireland and Austria and is aiming to work his way back into Michael O'Neill's thoughts after his spell on the sidelines.

He'll have to compete with Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart at the back, however, who have formed a strong partnership in McAuley's absence.

"Hopefully on international duty now, I’ll get some more minutes and then come back and push for starts," said the Larne man.

"(The Republic) will be a big game. We have had a couple before. One was behind closed doors with no real crowd around it, so it will be a good game and a fiercely contested game.

"It is one we will be looking to win. We have had a spell recently internationally where we haven’t picked up results that maybe performances deserved.

"We want to get back to winning, getting the feel-good factor there and carrying that on into the qualifiers for the Euros."

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