Belfast Telegraph

Irish League players 'aren't at a high enough level' says Michael O'Neill

By Laure James

The "gulf" in quality between the Irish League and the League of Ireland isn't helping local players break into the national team, Michael O'Neill has said. Clubs routinely bowing out during preliminary stages of Uefa competition qualifiers has left the Danske Bank Premiership floundering whereas the likes of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers - guided by O'Neill - have reached the group stage of the Europa League.

"Of course there's a gulf," said the Northern Ireland manager.

"Dundalk are in the group stage of the Europa League. Five years ago, Shamrock Rovers were in the group stage of the Europa League.

"You only have to look at our clubs' results in Europe to determine the gulf. There's no doubt.

"We've really tried to promote the young players who are domestic here by giving them experience at Under-21 level, and that's all we can do, but hopefully their involvement at that level will enhance their careers, whether that's in Northern Ireland or elsewhere."

Roy Carroll, who has not featured in a Northern Ireland squad since joining Linfield, is one example of an Irish League player not receiving a call, yet O'Neill argues it is more a matter of the goalkeeper's age, and his keenness to blood new talent, rather than the ex-Manchester United and Olympiakos man's drop to semi-professional football which has excluded him.

"Part of my job is to develop the squad, so if Roy is not the first choice goalkeeper, there's not a lot to be gained from bringing him in to sit on the bench in all honesty," he said.

"It is much more beneficial to bring a young goalkeeper like Trevor Carson in, I do think it's a massive step for a goalkeeper coming from part-time football.

"You have to remember, our league is ranked 47th in Europe, so it's not a fantastic standard of football that the players are coming from.

"We have picked a number of players for the Under-21 squad, and some of them have done well. Some of them have also failed to turn up as well, so there's a professionalism aspect there which needs to be addressed in the domestic league, too.

"In relation to Roy, I had a good conversation with him after the Euros, it was very unfortunate how he lost his place coming into the finals with his injury and Michael (McGovern) coming in, but I don't think anyone would dispute how Michael is the No.1 goalkeeper we have at this minute in time.

"As I said to Roy, the door will always be open. I know if we need him to come in, he'll never let us down, so that's the way it's been. But realistically, I don't think the domestic players we have are playing at a high enough level to come in and challenge to be in the international squad at this time."

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