New boss Michael O'Neill wants stronger Northern Ireland squad

New Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is aiming to change the minds of young players who have opted to switch to the Republic of Ireland.

O'Neill also hopes players like George McCartney and Aaron Hughes might come out of international retirement.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss said his first objective was to strengthen the pool of players.

"We have to grow our own players and maintain their allegiance to Northern Ireland," said O'Neill.

"I want to try to build a club atmosphere in the international set-up and develop a smooth path for the young players to come through and play for Northern Ireland.

"I want them to have the ambition to play for Northern Ireland. We have to be fully inclusive for all players qualified for the national team.

"There are young players making their breakthrough at club level and it will be a case of fast-tracking some of them in to complement the senior players who have served Northern Ireland so well in recent years."

Northern Ireland have been hit by the ruling which allows players north of the border to be able to opt to play for the Republic of Ireland.

O'Neill, who won 33 NI caps between 1988 and 1996, said he respected a player's right to make the choice but would be trying to make playing for Northern Ireland an attractive proposition.

"A lot of these lads have played their youth football in Northern Ireland, they have played representative for Northern Ireland at under age level.

"It is important we look after these players and mentor them so they see the benefit of having a long and distinguished career with Northern Ireland as opposed to possibly being on the fringes of the Republic of Ireland squad."

The new manager said he would be speaking to players who had quit the international scene.

"I will be emphasising how important they are to the Northern Ireland set-up," he added.

""I hope to convince them they still have a few more miles left in them at international level."

O'Neill's first match in charge of Northern Ireland will be a home friendly against Norway 29 February, followed by the Netherlands in Amsterdam on 2 June and Finland in Belfast on 15 August.

Northern Ireland then face a tough World Cup qualifying group as they have been drawn with Russia, Portugal, Israel, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

Former Newcastle United player O'Neill was one of three candidates interviewed by the Irish FA, along with Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie.

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