EURO 2016: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill keeping options open ahead of finals

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O’Neill is keeping his options open as the clock ticks down to this summer’s Euro finals.

While O’Neill has decided on most of his 23-man squad for France, the door remains open for a number of new recruits to be included in his final panel.

One potential new arrival is emerging star Conor Washington.

Washington earned a £2.8m move to Sky Bet Championship side QPR earlier this week after impressing for Peterborough United in League One.

The 23-year-old – who qualifies for Northern Ireland through the grandparent rule – scored 33 goals in 94 appearances for Posh, including 14 in his last 19 appearances.

And now the former postman looks set to be included in O’Neill’s plans for the forthcoming friendlies against Wales and Slovenia on March 24 and 28 – and potentially the Northern Ireland manager’s final Euro squad.

“There are one or two players we are watching and Conor is one of those,” O’Neill said.

“I saw him play a few times at Peterborough and I’m monitoring that situation.

“He is a striker who qualifies for us through eligibility - his grandparents - so I’ve been keeping a close eye on him.

“The back bone of the squad that got us to the finals is obviously what we’ll take to France, but it’s also important we move the squad on. There has to be transition.”

Other potential new recruits include Peterborough defender Michael Smith and Gillingham striker Rory Donnelly.

Donnelly – the former Cliftonville hit-man – has bagged 10 goals for the Gills this season, and is also on O’Neill’s radar ahead of Northern Ireland’s opening group game against Poland in Nice on June 12.

“Rory is a young player who is scoring goals for Gillingham,” said O’Neill.

“I also watched Michael last week. He is a local lad who played for Ballymena. He’s someone we’ve known about for a while and he’s having a great season.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill hopes talisman Kyle Lafferty can sort out his club future during the January transfer window.

The Norwich City striker continues to be linked with a move away from Carrow Road after a deal with Leeds United failed to materialise.

“I spoke to Kyle last week. It’s a case of wait and see,” O’Neill added.

“Norwich are maybe holding out for a permanent deal for Kyle. If that doesn’t happen, he still has the option to go out on loan in the Championship when the window shuts.

“The most important thing is he gets game time between now and the finals. He needs to be active so hopefully something can be done.”