Northern Ireland

The latest international break saw Michael O’Neill’s side continue their recent luckless run, spurning a number of chances in a 0-0 draw against our southern neighbours in Dublin, before losing to the last kick of the game in a 2-1 defeat to Austria in Belfast.

While results have not gone our way, the level of performance in the games since the start of the season have been very encouraging. There has been a shift in style and this new brand of football has seen us create a high number of chances across the six games.

I will leave the analysis of the game to others, though, as today I will be having a close look at the squad numbers employed by the GAWA over this most recent international break and beyond.

Breaking with Tradition

Northern Ireland have, until fairly recently, been almost exclusively a traditional 1-11 side, with one notable exception. Aaron Hughes has been sporting the no.18 shirt since the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004, specifically a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park against Spain in June 2003.

The Green and White army began to experiment with squad numbers at the beginning of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. In an opening night 2-1 defeat against Slovakia, Jonny Evans started the game at right back wearing no.15, while Martin Patterson wore no.19 at left wing in Nigel Worthington’s 4-5-1 formation.

By the time the next game came around, a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic, the squad numbers had been abandoned, bar Hughes in his no.18 shirt.

Squad Numbers Introduced

Upon the arrival of Michael O’Neill in 2011, Northern Ireland began implementing squad numbers in the squad, with a number of players taking numbers that they have worn ever since. Gareth McAuley (no.4), Jonny Evans (no.5), Steven Davis (no.8), Kyle Lafferty (no.10), Olly Norwood (no.16) and Craig Cathcart (no.20) among those to take on what would become their long-term numbers.

Northern Ireland didn’t enjoy a particularly successful campaign, their only victory coming in a 1-0 win over Russia in Belfast. They took only three points from the six games against Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, but many felt the side was progressing under the new manager. Fast forward a few years and the Green and White Army were en route to a French adventure they would never forget.

The squad has continued to develop since Euro 2016, with a number of new faces coming into the squad as O’Neill reshapes the side while lowering the average age along the way. Michael McGovern’s lack of game time has seen him lose the no.1 shirt to Leeds United protégé Bailey Peacock-Farrell, while Jamal Lewis has already made the no.3 shirt his own. Shane Ferguson was the natural heir to the retired Chris Brunt’s no.11 shirt, while midfielder George Saville has been made the permanent no.6, a shirt that had been out of place on a fullback in Lee Hodson since the retirement of Chris Baird following the Euros.

Rounding off 2018

For the games versus the Republic of Ireland and Austria, the squad had a more settled look thanks to the return of the likes of Gareth McAuley, Niall McGinn, Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward. With Conor Washington, Olly Norwood and Will Grigg three notable absentees for various reasons, their most recent shirts were filled by Liam Boyce (no.9), Michael Smith (no.22) and Gavin Whyte (No.16), respectively.

Whyte, in fact, has worn a different number for each of his three caps to date. For his goalscoring international debut, the 3-0 friendly win over Israel at the National Stadium, Whyte was wearing Josh Magennis’ no.21 shirt. In the 2-0 defeat in Bosnia, Whyte took the no.7 shirt vacated by the absent Niall McGinn, while in Dublin he wore the no.16 shirt usually associated with the suspended Norwood. Coincidentally, no.16 is the number Whyte wears for his club, Oxford United.

For the friendly in Dublin, six players remained on the sidelines without a squad number; Trevor Carson, Tom Flanagan, Bobby Burns, Jordan Thompson, Paul Smyth and Kyle Vassell. However, for the Nations League defeat to Austria, Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis & Jamie Ward were withdrawn and in came Trevor Carson (No.1), Jordan Thompson (No.3) and Kyle Vassell (No.19).

By the time the next international break comes around in March, O’Neill will be hoping to continue the development of his squad, while also turning the encouraging performances into results.

NI squad for the friendly vs Republic of Ireland in Dublin (15/11/18) & UEFA Nations League Qualifier vs Austria in Belfast (18/11/18). Replacements in brackets.

1 – GK – Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Trevor Carson)
2 – DF – Conor McLaughlin
3 – DF – Jamal Lewis (Jordan Thompson)
4 – DF – Gareth McAuley
5 – DF – Jonny Evans
6 – MF – George Saville
7 – MF – Niall McGinn
8 – MF – Steven Davis
9 – FW – Liam Boyce
10 – FW – Kyle Lafferty
11 – MF – Shane Ferguson
12 – GK – Michael McGovern
13 – MF – Corry Evans
14 – MF – Stuart Dallas
15 – MF – Jordan Jones
16 – MF – Gavin Whyte
17 – DF – Paddy McNair
18 – DF – Aaron Hughes
19 – FW – Jamie Ward (Kyle Vassell)
20 – DF – Craig Cathcart
21 – FW – Josh Magennis
22 – DF – Michael Smith
23 – GK – Conor Hazard