'I won't cap players just for the sake of it' - Northern Ireland boss refuses to fast-track players into international set-up

The former Shamrock Rovers boss has said that he won't give players international caps just for the sake of tying them to the Northern Ireland national team
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has admitted that he will not cap players 'just for the sake of it' in order to stop Ulster-born footballers declaring for the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking at the senior squad announcement yesterday, O'Neill admitted that he would pick the best players available to him, and not fast-track any players into the setup. "I think that would be wrong to do that ," O'Neill said. "it would devalue the whole process if you capped players on that basis.

"If a player is not happy playing with Northern Ireland, there will be problems further down the line. I wouldn’t take that route where we push a player through unnecessarily so."

O'Neill has named a 26-man squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers with Russia and Israel, but a noteable absentee is Liverpool's Ryan McLaughlin. O'Neill believes that McLaughlin is committed to Northern Ireland, but feels it is too early to play him in a competitive international. "If you look at the situation with Ryan McLaughlin, I don’t think he is ready at this minute in time," O’Neill said.

"I was down at Liverpool last week with Brendan Rodgers, and he doesn’t feel Ryan is ready right now.  So it is not a case of throwing him in the squad and giving him a cap so nobody else can pick him, that’s not the way we will go about it.

"It would devalue the process for the players, the likes of David Healy who has nearly 100 caps and the Mal Donaghys of this world who have similar records, if we started handing out caps on that basis."

Northern Ireland currently sit in fourth place in Group F behind Russia, Israel and Portugal with three points from four games.

They will host Russia at Windsor Park on Friday March 22 before welcoming Israel on Tuesday, March 26.