'Northern Ireland success will attract young players' - O'Neill

Oliver Norwood has made 47 appearances for Northern Ireland
Oliver Norwood has made 47 appearances for Northern Ireland

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."

As It Stood

A

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1France85211551017
2Sweden85121871116
3Netherlands84131611513
4Bulgaria84041317-412
5Luxembourg8125717-105
6Belarus8125416-125

B

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Switzerland88001831524
2Portugal87012842421
3Hungary8314119210
4Faroe Islands8224415-118
5Andorra8116217-154
6Latvia8107318-153

C

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Germany88003523324
2Northern Ireland86111621419
3Azerbaijan8314812-410
4Czech Rep823310919
5Norway8215816-87
6San Marino8008238-360

D

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Serbia7430167915
2R. of Ireland734095413
3Wales7250105511
4Austria72239908
5Georgia7043711-44
6Moldova7025418-142

E

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Poland86111811719
2Montenegro85121871116
3Denmark85121871116
4Romania82338809
5Armenia8206819-116
6Kazakhstan8026422-182

F

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1England86201631320
2Slovakia8503146815
3Slovenia8422104614
4Scotland84221410414
5Lithuania8125618-125
6Malta8008221-190

G

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Spain76102432119
2Italy75111871116
3Albania740398112
4Israel7304913-49
5Macedonia7205913-46
6Liechtenstein7007126-250

H

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Belgium87103533222
2Bos-Herze84221981114
3Greece8341115613
4Cyprus8314812-410
5Estonia8224617-118
6Gibraltar8008337-340

I

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Croatia75111221016
2Ukraine7421115614
3Iceland741297213
4Turkey7322118311
5Finland7115510-54
6Kosovo7016319-161
View full World Cup Qualifying - European tables

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