Michael O'Neill has welcomed Paddy McNair's return to the Northern Ireland squad for the World Cup play-off against Switzerland and is backing the versatile Sunderland ace to make an impact in the double-header.
The former Manchester United defender has been sidelined since last November after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and O'Neill admits he is unlikely to be fit enough to start either match.
But McNair, who came off the bench in Sunderland's 2-1 loss to Bristol City, can still play a significant role in helping his country make next summer's finals in Russia. The 22-year-old has been able to use Northern Ireland's stunning qualifying campaign as greater motivation to return stronger, and O'Neill is hoping this diamond sparkles again.
"Paddy has had these play-offs as a target, assuming we would get to this point," said O'Neill. "He was making fabulous progress then had a setback when he needed a small procedure on his knee. He probably hoped to be back by now, and for him to miss so much so early in his Sunderland career has been difficult.
"It is important he is with us, and his versatility is important to look at him to play in the back four or midfield. But we don't expect Paddy to come in and be able to start the game for us, that's not the intention, but if he comes in to give us something for some part that's a bonus."
Sunderland boss Simon Grayson says he has no issue with McNair's inclusion in the squad.
"It's not a problem," the Black Cats boss said. "I spoke with Michael and he's got Paddy's best interests at heart. He will look after him and link in with us. I will speak to him in the next couple of days, just to let him know where we think we are with him regarding his position.
"But Michael is sensible enough to know that Paddy has been out a long time and he won't jeopardise his future.
"But it's just great for the lad to be back after a long time out, being in his country's squad because he's a passionate Irishman and wants to help them get to the World Cup."