Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill on Jonny Evans’ fitness battle, uncapped stars and Sean Moore
With Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans, Ali McCann, Shayne Lavery plus skipper Steven Davis all unavailable through injury, O’Neill was forced to name four uncapped players in Cameron McGeehan, Sean Goss, Isaac Price and Eoin Toal.
Jonny Evans was named in the squad despite his injury issues, while there was no place for Euro 2016 stars Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against San Marino (March 23) and Finland (March 26).
Here’s eight things we learned from this morning’s press conference.
Jonny Evans should make it
Jonny Evans has not kicked a ball in anger since November, but O’Neill is quietly confident the central defender will feature in this month’s internationals.
He said: “I speak to Jonny nearly every week. He is coming on well with his original injury although a slight thigh strain disrupted his progress and set him back a couple of weeks.
“The hope is he will play an U20s game for Leicester if not this week then before the international break.
“He’s massive for us with 100 caps. He wants to prolong his international career for as long as possible.
“He is a player who can come into the squad without having played a lot of football, and still do a job because of his experience. He has done that before and hopefully he can do it again.”
The door remains open to Kyle Lafferty
In September, Lafferty was axed from the Northern Ireland squad after a video emerged on social media that showed the striker using a sectarian remark.
Lafferty was subsequently hit with a 10-game ban by the Scottish FA, before leaving Kilmarnock and joining Linfield.
Although O’Neill has not selected Lafferty for this month’s games, the door is not closed on the former Rangers striker.
O’Neill said: “It will depend on Kyle’s form. I pick it on the here and the now. Yes, you have loyalty towards players who have done well for you in the past, but you have to consider current form.
“And Kyle has missed a huge chunk of the season through suspension, and then his contract was terminated and now he’s playing for Linfield.
“I’ve had people at Linfield games, and I’ve watched them back, and…