WORLD CUP: Time off the pitch an issue for Northern Ireland

Niall McGinn (left) following an appearance for Northern Ireland at EURO 2016. Pic by PressEye.

Playing time restricted by tactics or the treatment table has left Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill frustrated at reduced options for the forthcoming Switzerland dates.

O’Neill this week named a 27-strong squad for the two-leg play-off home and away across four days with the reward a World spot in Russia next summer.

However, work at the training camp in preparation for another landmark moment under O’Neill will be disrupted to a degree by the transfer of club disappointment on to the international stage.

Niall McGinn’s situation in South Korea was singled out by O’Neill - with the 30-year-old winger short of minutes on the pitch since his summer switch to the Gwangju club.

“It’s not his location, he’s not playing, that’s the biggest thing,” said O’Neill. “Niall has played three or four times since he went to South Korea.

“It has not been a particularly good move from a football point-of-view at all.

“The club is struggling and there has been a change of coach, so there has been upheaval there.

“Niall is an experienced player and you know what you get when you bring him in and you hope he is ready to play.

“But it is very difficult to gauge how he is because he’s not playing and it’s been difficult to get footage.

“I think he has a decision to make in January, he knows himself that from a football point of view he needs to look at what lies ahead for him.”

O’Neill also cited a note of caution over the effectiveness of Jamie Ward following his return to the Northern Ireland panel following recovery from an injury which has left club minutes limited.

“Jamie, unfortunately, has been stop-start a little bit,” said O’Neill. “The injuries that he gets tend to hold him back a little bit.

“Jamie has come off the bench the last three weeks and got various minutes so it’s good he’s back involved and getting on the pitch.

“We’ve missed Jamie, I think, since the Norway home game he’s not been involved, that’s five games really which is a big loss.”

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