Spain trip no holiday insists Michael O'Neill as he wants hard work to continue

Photo showing Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill -Credit:INPHO/Presseye/Jonathan Porter

It may be approaching the holiday season but Michael O'Neill insists Northern Ireland's trip to Spain next month will be far from an end of season jolly. O'Neill has named a strong squad for the friendly double-header against Spain and Andorra as he bids to keep the momentum going with one eye already on the World Cup qualifiers, which begin next year.

With an extended training camp in Murcia the Northern Ireland boss sees it as the perfect opportunity to work with the players on the pitch. And he has drummed that message home to the players, demanding their commitment to the cause no matter when they get the call.

"I only had one player, Paddy Lane, who said he felt he’d benefit from not being involved," revealed O'Neill when asked if players were keen to play after a long season.

Read next: Tim McCann highlights Glentoran desire as he makes Oval return

"My argument to that was ‘Well, that won’t benefit you going forward because you need to commit to international football. You have to be part of the group, come into the squad and establish yourself in the squad, then try to establish yourself in the team.’ We’re looking for that commitment from the players.

"I went recently out to Belgium to watch Isaac Price and he said ‘Can’t wait to come and join up in June’. That’s the attitude that you want from players coming into the squad. Scheduling games is difficult, so when you get the opportunity to go and play for me it’s a no-brainer to take it.

“People go ‘Why would you take that game? What chance have you got away to Spain?’ For me we’re talking about the development of a team here and the development of a squad. We’re asking players to come and play on June the 8th having played a lot of football – but they’re excited because they’re playing Spain away, that’s what motivates them to play.

“They’ll have to go and play qualification games in June going forward so this is a real opportunity. The most important thing is we get 10, 11 days together as a camp in Murcia to prepare for this game and that will be invaluable to add another layer to this group of players.

"They enjoy being together and these games at the end of the season, you get a lot out of them if the players really commit to it, because they can bring it forward into September. Off the back of a good camp in March hopefully we can replicate that in these two games."

Corry Evans joins brother Jonny in making a return to the squad after a lengthy period out with injury. There's another sibling duo as goalkeeper Pierce Charles joins his brother Shea in the squad for the first time, and Ethan Galbraith gets a first call-up in 12 months after a good season with Leyton Orient.

"Jonny Evans has over 100 caps and Corry has over 70, Josh is touching somewhere in that region as well," said O'Neill. "You only get that number if you turn up, no-one gives you them. There's a lesson there for all the players."

Join Belfast Live’s new Irish League WhatsApp group. Click this link to receive the latest Irish League headlines and breaking news direct to your phone. We also treat our members to special offers, promotions and adverts from us and our partners. If you don’t like our group, you can check out any time you like. If you’re curious, you can read our Privacy Notice