“Northern Ireland success will attract young players’ – O’Neill

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Manager Michael O’Neill believes his team’s recent success will make it easier to persuade young players to represent Northern Ireland.

With his side on the verge of a place in the World Cup play-offs, O’Neill says the mood in the Northern Ireland camp is more positive than in the past.

“At one time, we had boys who dreaded coming to play for us in Belfast, now they relish it,” said O’Neill.

The manager felt they had lost too many players to the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s win over the Czech Republic on Monday means they are guaranteed a top two finish in Group C qualifying.

With the world champions topping the group, O’Neill’s men are likely to be one of the eight countries taking part in the play-offs to determine the last four European qualifiers.

That success is making it easier for Northern Ireland to attract young players who have the option of playing their international football elsewhere, O’Neill argued on Radio 5 live.

“It was very difficult in the early years because we didn’t have a lot to sell,” said O’Neill who took over as NI boss in December 2011.

“The ground was dilapidated and the results were not positive, so to convince a young player to come and play for Northern Ireland was not an easy thing to do.

“If you look at someone like Oliver Norwood, for example, who played for us at Under-17. He is a Burnley boy and his father is from Northern Ireland, Ollie is touching 50 caps now for us.”

The NI manager said he was concerned at the way players have had to make important decisions on their international careers at a young age.

“The thing I don’t like to see happen, and it happens a lot to us, is when a young player is put in a position where he has to switch his international allegiance between the ages of 17 and 21,” O’Neill added.

“It is only one choice you get, and we have lost too many young players to the Republic of Ireland on that basis whose international careers have floundered rather than flourished because of that decision. It is a big decision for any young player to have to make.

“The competition for young players is no different really from club football. Big clubs are looking for the best players at 12 and 13, and international teams are starting young as well.”