Belfast (AFP) – Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has urged his Euro 2016 hopefuls to prove they deserve a place on the plane to France after naming his squad for a friendly against Belarus.
O’Neill’s team are looking forward to their first appearance at a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and there are still a few spots in the squad up for grabs.
The Irish fringe players have one last chance to impress O’Neill against Belarus in Belfast on May 27, with the final 23-man squad set to be named the next day, before a final warm-up match against Slovakia on June 4.
With Northern Ireland unbeaten in their last 10 matches, O’Neill’s major decisions revolve around the back up roles in attack.
Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis are all likely to fill forward spots, leaving O’Neill a choice between Wigan’s Will Grigg, Ross County’s Liam Boyce and Billy McKay, who has been on loan at Dundee United from Wigan.
Grigg, who scored 25 times this season, is back in the squad having been omitted from the group that faced Wales and Slovenia in March so he could concentrate on helping Wigan win promotion.
In defence, O’Neill must decide if Daniel Lafferty, Michael Smith and Luke McCullough make the cut from 28 to 23 players.
“We will use the Belarus game to look at our options, our systems and how we play. It’s also a chance to look at personnel and to give players opportunities,” O’Neill said.
“We are on a good run at the minute and we want to continue that run.
“The Belarus and Slovakia games will both be very important. I think that they will both be good tests for us.
“They are what we need because when we come to the tournament we are going to have to reach very high levels, possibly levels that we have never reached before.”
Northern Ireland face Poland in their first Euro 2016 Group C match on June 12 followed by Ukraine on June 16 and Germany on June 21.
Northern Ireland squad to face Belarus in a friendly in Belfast on May 27:
Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Hamilton), Roy Carroll (Notts County)
Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonathan Evans (West Bromwich Albion), (Gareth McAuley West Bromwich Albion), Luke McCullough (Doncaster), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City), Daniel Lafferty (Burnley), Patrick McNair (Manchester United), Michael Smith (Peterborough), Lee Hodson (Milton Keynes Dons)
Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Reading) Corry Evans (Blackburn), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Ben Reeves (Milton Keynes Dons), Chris Baird (Derby)
Will Grigg (Wigan), Kyle Lafferty (Norwich), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Billy McKay (Dundee United), Liam Boyce (Ross County), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)
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