EURO 2016: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill excited by potential of Conor Washington

Conor Washington impressed for Peterborough before joining QPR in January
Conor Washington impressed for Peterborough before joining QPR in January

Michael O’Neill believes new arrival Conor Washington has the potential to be a hit with Northern Ireland.

O’Neill has included uncapped QPR forward Washington in his 24-man squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Wales at Cardiff City Stadium on March 24 and at home to Slovenia four days later.

The 23-year-old – who qualifies through the grandparent rule – scored 15 goals for Peterborough earlier this season before signing a three-and-a-half-year deal with QPR in January.

“We have had Conor watched for a while now. He was at Peterborough and Newport, and it was his agent who alerted us of his eligibility,” O’Neill said.

“I have watched him twice and he scored in both games. He was particularly impressive.

“He looks like a player who is really hungry to progress, and his career has been on an upward curve in the last 18 months.

“He was also keen to be involved with Northern Ireland, so that was exciting, too. His general enthusiasm was refreshing.

“He has pace and he is powerful, so he ticks a lot of boxes for us.”

O’Neill has also included uncapped Peterborough defender Michael Smith in his 24-man squad.

Former Ballyclare Comrades and Ballymena United player Smith spent three years with Bristol Rovers before signing for Peterborough in 2014.

“Michael has played four or five seasons in England. He was at Bristol Rovers in League Two but has moved up a division to Peterborough,” O’Neill added.

“He has handled it well and he has good attributes. He is also flexible which is a bonus.”

Burnley defender Daniel Lafferty returns to the squad while striker Will Grigg misses out.

“Daniel missed the first part of the season with a shoulder injury, so that held him back,” O’Neill added.

“I had a good chat with Will and just felt it would be better if he stayed with his club and played football.

“We have five strikers in the squad and you don’t want to bring players in and not use them.

“Will has done well this season, so the door has not shut on him – or anyone else.”

Northern Ireland squad: Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll, Michael McGovern, Alan Mannus

Defenders: Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Lee Hodson, Conor McLaughlin, Daniel Lafferty, Luke McCullough, Paddy McNair, Michael Smith

Midfielders: Steven Davis, Niall McGinn, Oliver Norwood, Shane Ferguson, Stuart Dallas

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty, Jamie Ward, Josh Magennis, Billy McKay, Liam Boyce, Conor Washington.