O’Neill keen to keep Derry trio under spotlight

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NORTHERN IRELAND manager Michael O’Neill says he is planning to keep a close eye on the progress of Derry City goalkeeper Gerard Doherty as well as Shane and Patrick McEleney as he looks to increase competition at International level.

Eoghain McKane reports

O’Neill was speaking at the launch of the ‘Football for All’ programme in Derry’s Playhouse this week during which the I.F.A. unveiled plans to set up a North West street league which it hopes will help young players from disadvantaged back grounds come together through football.

The former Shamrock Rovers manager was full of praise for the coaching work being undertaken by Declan Devine and his backroom staff at Brandywell Stadium and said he believes a number of Derry players could come under consideration in the coming months.

“They (Shane and Patrick McEleney) have potential to have a really bright future with us,” explained O’Neill.

“We are hoping to elevate them to a level of the game that can hopefully benefit Derry City and Northern Ireland which I believe is a big part of my job as Northern Ireland manager. I’ve met face-to-face with the McEleney brothers on a couple of occasions and I’m delighted they’ve made the choice to represent Northern Ireland.”

O’Neill, whose name was this week linked to SPL outfit Dundee United after manager Peter Houston indicated he will be stepping down at the end of the season, was present at a number of Derry City matches last season and made at least one an appearance at the Brandywell, a habit he intends to continue throughout the 2013 campaign.

“I keep a keen eye on the McEleneys as we have to give ourselves as many players to pick from as possible but there’s a number of players at Derry (worth considering). Gerard Doherty is another example of that.”

The McEleney brothers decision to pledge their international futures to Northern Ireland reversed the recent trend of Derry men declaring for the Republic of Ireland, a trend that saw O’Neill miss out on players such as Everton duo Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy as well as Sunderland star James McClean. Despite this, O’Neill is reluctant to discuss a ruling over which he has little control at present.

“As the rules stand, the player has a right if he is born in Northern Ireland to play for either Northern Ireland or the Republic. We don’t have the opportunity to change that whether you believe it’s correct or incorrect. It is really irrelevant to me because that’s what the rule is and you have to deal with it.”

The Northern Ireland manager is the ambassador for the ‘Football for All’ relaunch and praised the programme for “bringing football to all areas of the community” adding it can only have a positive influence for everyone in football.

The relaunch at the Playhouse was also attended by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who was glowing in his praise of the program.

“It’s a fantastic project and a hugely important job of work,” explained the Deputy First Minister, “I applaud the I.F.A. for the programme and you can be sure of my on-going 100 per cent support.”