Belfast Telegraph

Possible departures and retirements haven't even entered our minds, insists big Josh

By Graham Luney

With Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill continually linked with other managerial roles and some players expected to retire at the end of this campaign, there's a fear that this green and white bubble could soon burst.

A failure to make it to the World Cup finals in Russia next summer would now be a heartbreaking disappointment, and if Switzerland win the play-off battles it will spark fresh concern that O'Neill and some of his elder statesmen like Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Chris Brunt may leave the international stage.

O'Neill's contract includes the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, but he has been strongly linked with the vacant Scotland position.

Should Northern Ireland's World Cup journey end this week, this group of players and management may experience a shake-up, but striker Josh Magennis says it's not occupying minds at the moment.

"It's probably people from the outside looking in, thinking some players are getting on and who is there coming through?" said the Charlton frontman. "But there's been no talk from any of the lads who are older. Hughesy (Aaron Hughes) did retire but came back.

"The boys are just enjoying being away with each other. We genuinely have a serious relationship with each other. We enjoy each other's company.

"It'll come down to Michael and each individual player. They'll have their own conversations.

"But we've been progressing, and I can't see anyone saying that would be it. Why call it a day when international football is on such a high and we're competing to reach major tournaments? I've never thought, 'I wonder if such and such will retire after this?'.

"We'll dust ourselves down after this and go again."

Magennis is one of eight Northern Ireland players one booking away from a suspension and, while the prospect of sitting out the crunch game on Sunday is a nightmare scenario, the 27-year-old says it will not affect his performance.

"We went from having four players booked to five and then to seven," he said. "Michael was saying to us that he didn't expect the lads to pull out of tackles. The reason we're so successful is that we play with passion and a high tempo.

"But the last thing you want is to get booked. You've got to leave that emotion out and play as hard as you can. The most important thing is that come Sunday we are in the World Cup."

Magennis was reasonably content with the play-off draw but believes the Swiss still pose a huge threat.

"I just felt blessed we were in the draw, especially after the qualifying group we had," he added. "We knew Italy and Croatia, who we played before when they were missing some players, would be tough.

"But we got a game that we probably would have taken. I have never played against Switzerland, so it's one of those types of occasions.

"But it won't be an easy game, far from it. They only missed out on winning their group by losing their final game, so they'll be full of confidence."

Belfast Telegraph

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