O’Neill vows to make North West a priority

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NORTHERN Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill has vowed to strengthen the relationship between Derry City and the IFA as he continues to ‘run his eye’ over players from the North West area.

SIMON COLLINS reports

The ex-Shamrock Rovers boss presented Carnhill man, Danny Lafferty with his senior international debut against The Netherlands last weekend and he expects several other representatives of the city to make the grade in the near future.

Former ‘Candy Stripes’ Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn, alongside Eglinton lad, Shane Ferguson were also in the panel against the Dutch and O’Neill insists it’s important for the IFA to work closely with both youth and senior football clubs in the North West area in order to maximise the pool of talent available to him.

“I continually keep an eye on young players at Derry City and believe that some have an international future ahead of them if they can continue to progress under Declan (Devine).

“I’m fully aware that we, as an Association, need to continue the work that we do and maintain good relations within youth and senior football in this area.

“Derry has always been a hot-bed for football and that won’t change so it’s important that we make sure the relationship between ourselves and the people of Derry continues to grow and remains strong. And any player that’s eligible to play for N. Ireland will be on my radar to be selected.

“We have three Derry players in the squad already,” added the Ballymena man. “Daniel (Lafferty) is a player I know well from his time at Derry City. I always knew he would get the opportunity to go back to the UK and he’s at a good club with a good manager and hopefully he can progress there. He’s right in the mix to challenge for the left-back spot in the senior international scene.

“I commend Declan for the job he’s doing at Derry City. They have some fantastic young players at the club and hopefully Declan gets the opportunity to develop those players.

“Derry’s always produced extremely gifted players in the past and in this current era. As a player in the N. Ireland squad I played alongside Liam Coyle in his only appearance for N. Ireland, Gary Fleming, David Campbell and Paul Ramsey who all hail from this city and in my current squad I have a number of Derry players.

“Obviously we have to try and strengthen the pool of players that we have to choose from and that’s a challenge in itself. Hopefully I can make progress in the job and make us more competitive and build a squad over time that’s challenging to go to a major tournament,” he concluded.