Earlier this week Michael O’Neill announced his first international squad of 2018 for the upcoming visit of South Korea. Alongside a few shock omissions there are also a few new faces as Northern Ireland look to put their World Cup Playoff disappointment behind them and plan for the next few years.
Michael McGovern retains his place in the squad despite only managing a solitary EFL Cup appearance so far this season for Norwich City. Alongside McGovern is a call up for Motherwell’s Trevor Carson who has impressed between the sticks for the Scottish Premiership side who currently sit in 7th place. Carson is in contention for a debut appearance alongside 20 year old Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard. Hazard is currently on loan with Falkirk in the Scottish Championship and this is no doubt a view toward looking at a long term replacement for 33 year old McGovern. There had been an expectation that Leeds youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell would make an appearance due to his recent breakthrough at the Yorkshire club, however, Peacock-Farrell will instead meet up with the U21 squad.
Aaron Hughes returns to the squad at the ripe age of 38, looking to take one step closer to Pat Jennings’ all time cap record of 119, Hughes is currently on 109 for himself. Craig Cathcart is recalled to the side despite struggling with injury thus far this season, having not appeared for Watford since August. Squad regulars Conor McLaughlin and Lee Hodson are also in despite Hodson’s minimal appearances for Rangers this year as doubts over his future at the club remain.
West Brom’s Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans also retain their place taking a break from West Brom’s almost certain relegation stained campaign. There is no place for outspoken Baggies team mate Chris Brunt as he takes time to consider his international future amidst his club’s struggles in the league. This leaves room for Norwich youngster Jamal Lewis who impressed during a goalscoring appearance against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Sunderland’s Paddy McNair also returns as he continues to attempt to break back into the Sunderland team following injury.
No shocks as Steven Davis, Ollie Norwood, Corry Evans and Stuart Dallas are included. Shane Ferguson is another potential long term replacement for Chris Brunt should that eventuality come about, the left sided Millwall player has made most of his apperances from the bench this season for The Lions. George Saville makes up the third Millwall player in the squad, with 9 goals this season and having impressed in his previous 4 international appearances. Kilmarnock’s Jordan Jones is also in, having made his international debut in the playoff second leg against the Swiss.
Niall McGinn is also no surprise as he prepares to line up against South Korea. McGinn’s brief spell in Korea lasted only 5 months during which he made 7 appearances for Gwangju FC before returning to Aberdeen. McGinn has helped his side’s pursuit of Rangers and Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership with 2 goals in 7 appearances.
Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis are obvious inclusions as they all feature prominently for their club sides Hearts, QPR and Charlton respectively. Jamie Ward is called up despite a rough start to his loan spell at Cardiff City having suffered an injury 13 minutes into his debut. One player everyone will be delighted to see return is Liam Boyce. The Burton Albion striker has done very well to come back from a serious knee injury following his summer move from Ross County.
One more big name missing from the list is Wigan’s Will Grigg. Fast becoming a cult hero to fans all over thanks to THAT song, Grigg has decided to stay with his club side to concentrate on their push for promotion from League One alongside an FA Cup Quarter Final fixture – thanks in part to the man himself scoring the only goal of the game against runaway Premiership leaders Manchester City. It was also thought that QPR’s Paul Smyth may merit a call up following his summer move from Linfield however Smyth will link up with the U21 squad again.