INTERNATIONAL: Northern Ireland on the look-out for another McLaughlin

Conor McLaughlin has nailed down his spot in the Northern Ireland team after making his first start in a friendly.   Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Conor McLaughlin has nailed down his spot in the Northern Ireland team after making his first start in a friendly. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.

Northern Ireland are hoping somebody could follow in Conor McLaughlin’s footsteps this evening.

The Fleetwood Town full-back made his first start in a friendly against Chile in 2016 and did enough to nail down a regular spot in the Euro 2016 qualifying bid.

Alan Mannus or Roy Carroll will start in nets tonight. 

Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.

Alan Mannus or Roy Carroll will start in nets tonight. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.

Normally a relatively settled selection, the current fringe players will get a rare opportunity to force their way into the manager’s thinking against Croatia this evening.

Burton defender Tom Flanagan, Dundee’s Michael Duffy and Rochdale midfielder Michael Lund are all yet to win a cap for their country, despite being named in selection panels.

The likes of Grigg, Washington, Boyce and Paton all have less than 10 caps and should some of those players get an opportunity, impressive displays could open doors similar to those which flung wide for full-back McLaughlin.

“The reason we took the friendly was to try and reward some of the players who have come on a regular basis and don’t get an opportunity to play,” said O’Neill. “You can’t take chances in competitive games. We didn’t know whether Conor McLaughlin was going to be able to step up from Fleetwood Town to international football until we put him in the team.

“I’m always excited when I put a player in to see how he’s going to do - whether that’s off the bench or from the start. That’s the purpose of tomorrow night’s game.”

O’Neill, however, said there wouldn’t be wholesale changes to his side:

“It’s important that we don’t put too many players in at one time and over-expose them against this level of opposition.

“The other thing is players have to earn caps - you just don’t give them out. The senior players want to add to their own tallies as well. The team will have some element of change but it won’t be as radical as maybe you think.

O’Neill has called up Linfield goalkeeper Roy Carroll after Trevor Carson and Michael McGovern returned to their clubs.