Jonny Evans: Young stars give Northern Ireland a lift

The next generation’s emergence in Michael O’Neill’s senior squad has reinvigorated Northern Ireland after their World Cup play-off heartache, according to Jonny Evans.

Only six months have passed since a 1-0 aggregate loss to Switzerland denied the Northern Irish a place at their first World Cup since 1986, but Michael O’Neill’s squad has already been reshaped.

Northern Ireland players Liam Boyce, Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans visit the Panama Canal

Northern Ireland players Liam Boyce, Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans visit the Panama Canal

Three debutants all impressed against South Korea in March and a further five uncapped players are with a team Evans will captain against Panama and Costa Rica this week.

Boss O’Neill declared “the future starts today” prior to that friendly victory over South Korea, which was achieved with a late winner from QPR winger Paul Smyth.

“Losing the World Cup play-off was in November so it now feels like a distant memory - I think the new lads coming in have been great for the squad,” Evans said.

“Paul Smyth coming in and scoring the winner last time out against South Korea... I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.

“That’s what sometimes happens when young lads come in. People underestimate the effect young players have on the squad especially on the senior players. It gives you a lift and they challenge the senior players.”