Michael O’Neill has offered fresh confirmation of his focus on Northern Ireland’s next generation with the decision to promote Paul Smyth and Shayne Lavery from the under 21s into his senior squad.
Both Smyth and Lavery featured in Thursday’s impressive performance against Spain and, in the aftermath of injury issues for some established players, O’Neill has opted to offer the two bright prospects greater senior experience as part of the panel to face South Korea.
“They’ll be part of the squad that is stripped for the senior game,” said O’Neill. “I was delighted with the under 21s’ performance.
“I’ve watched Paul since he made his debut at QPR, so we have kept an eye on him consistently.
“We know Paul anyway, we had him with us in France (EURO 2016) and we’ve had him up with the senior squad before.
“Shayne is a player I’ve known since he came into the under 17s, he’s an interesting player because he’s come late.
“He didn’t come in at 15, he suddenly arrived and I thought he was excellent when I saw him at the under 17s’ tournament.
“He’s a player we have great hopes for, I think he has all the attributes to be a really good Northern Ireland centre-forward.
“The transition from being an under 21 to senior international is short and these are two boys who are testament to that, as is Conor Hazard.”
Both players have enjoyed the benefits of the senior medical team’s expertise to aid recovery due to the rapid turnaround from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon and the under 21s’ next European Championship qualifying test against Iceland in Coleraine on Monday.
“They’ve come in today and had the full attention of all the little luxuries like ice baths and massages, everything they need,” said O’Neill. “Paul is suspended so we won’t have any concerns about having to be careful with him ahead of the Iceland game.
“Shayne’s had a little bit of a difficult year at Everton with his progression and injuries have held him back a bit.
“The (Spain) centre-back plays for Newcastle in the Premier League and Shayne is 19 years old and not that close to Everton’s first team at this minute in time but he has that willingness to work for the team, his work-rate is terrific and he has great quality as well.”
Smyth recently made the move out of the Irish League to join QPR from Linfield, with Lavery winning consecutive Harry Cavan Youth Challenge Cup titles at Portadown then Glenavon before signing for Everton.