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Belfast Live
Steven Crawford

Michael O'Neill admits it is a juggling act ahead of crucial qualifiers

The June UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers certainly bring their own challenges as Michael O'Neill has revealed.

Whilst the majority of leagues have already wound down there are still some Northern Ireland squad members who have only just brought an end to their domestic campaigns.

O'Neill admitted it is a bit of a juggling act as he bids to get his squad ready for the crucial doubleheader against Denmark and Kazakhstan next month.

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Part of the squad will meet up at St George’s Park, The FA’s national training centre, this week before they are joined by the remaining squad members at Champneys Springs in Leicestershire from 5-8 June.

O’Neill has drafted in some of the Under-21 players he has been working with this past week for the St George’s Park gathering – to give them a flavour of the senior international set-up as well as Irish League stars Lee Bonis and Conor McMenamin.

"At this minute, you're just trying to juggle everything," said the Northern Ireland boss.

"It is a very difficult time when the season finishes because if you look at the lads who play in the EFL they finished three weeks ago, whereas the lads in Scotland were playing last weekend.

"So we can't bring them straight into a camp after finishing their season, therefore we have to manage it.

"The first camp will be predominantly the lads who finished three weeks ago and then we will drip feed the others into the second camp before we meet together on June 11 back in Belfast.

"We will use some of these players in the U21 camp this week and it gives them some exposure.

"The longer term injuries are still absent such as Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans and Liam Boyce who are still not back and not playing first-team football.

"We've got Josh Magennis who will be out, Conor Washington will be out and Shane Ferguson has had groin surgery, so we have seven players missing which is going to challenge us.

"We had younger players in the squad for March and we will have younger players in the squad again."

After working with the Under-21s at close quarters O'Neill has been impressed with what he saw.

"These lads have been terrific, they are a good group and we have a nice mix of local boys like Liam McStravick, Terry Devlin, Matthew Lusty and Aaron Wightman," he said.

"It's good getting a look at those younger players in the Irish League and there's been lots of speculation about them.

"Then, you have the likes of Aaron Donnelly who has been out playing six months of League One football at Port Vale on loan from Nottingham Forest.

"It's been good, but the group is young and there's six or seven other players who could come into this group as well who have been unavailable to us."


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