Belfast Telegraph

Sunderland star McNair ready to play his part in Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off, says O'Neill

The defender has played only 11 minutes of senior football since return from 11-month injury

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is optimistic Paddy McNair can take to the pitch in the upcoming World Cup play-off matches.

O'Neill's men face Switzerland at home on November 9 and away on November 12 knowing it's win or bust as they look to seal their spot at the finals in Russia.

McNair, 22, has played only 11 minutes of first-team football in the last 11 months, since suffering a knee ligament injury in November last year. Those minutes came on Saturday as he was brought on for his return in Sunderland's 2-1 defeat at home to Bristol City.

But despite his lack of pitch-time, O'Neill is confident the defender-cum-midfielder can play his part in the two-legged tie.

"We don't expect him to start but hope he can be involved," said O'Neill.

"It's important for Paddy to be involved but he will be assessed. I spoke to Simon Grayson and we are optimistic he will be fine. For Paddy to be out has been difficult for him. It's important he is with us."

Also returning to the panel are Aaron Hughes, who pulled out of the previous squad with a calf issue, and Jamie Ward, who missed half the group campaign also with a calf problem. Hughes hasn't featured for Hearts in over a month while Ward has played only 40 minutes of first-team football for Nottingham Forest this season.

"Aaron has worked hard to be fit and done personal training sessions in Manchester," said O'Neill. "It's great to have Jamie back. His minutes have been minimal due to injury. He's a great option to have and we've missed Jamie."

Scunthorpe defender Rory McArdle has returned to the Northern Ireland squad and O'Neill said he would be ready to again step up to international football while the boss also underlined the need for players to secure first-team football at club level.

"We need people in form," said O'Neill. "We need our players playing and hope they all have minutes before coming here."

It's over two years since Northern Ireland held their nerve to beat Greece and secure the points they needed to qualify for Euro 2016 but O'Neill is hoping the same bottle will see them to Russia.

He said: "We'll be looking back to the Greece game for inspiration. It's a different scenario now & this could be some players last chance (to play in the World Cup finals)."

Northern Ireland squad for World Cup play-offs

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