As the season just ends with what seems a tea-break before the next starts, OTT takes a look at how some NI players have fared club wise in the past year.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell will have been disappointed to lose his Leeds place and next season is huge for him. Now he has international caps he has stated that he may need to look elsewhere should he not recover it.
Michael McGovern’s position has possibly changed at Norwich with the arrival of another goalkeeper. He may have to consider his options fairly carefully over the remaining few weeks.
Trevor Carson will be glad to just be playing again after his DVT issues. Should he regain his Motherwell first-team spot he will also hope to do the same in the international team should BPF remain in Leeds’ reserves.
The centre of defence fared well this season. Despite an erratic start to his Leicester career Jonny Evans finished strongly and seems well thought of by Brendan Rogers. Craig Cathcart had probably his steadiest season yet with Watford and this was reflected with excellent some NI performances.
Conor McLaughlin probably had as frustrating a season as teammate Shane Ferguson enjoyed his at Millwall. Ferguson had a strong second half to the season but remains behind Jamal Lewis at left-back following Norwich’s promotion. McLaughlin’s warming of the bench was only a precursor to his eventual release. His move to Sunderland, all things considered, is probably a good one. Yes, he drops down a division but he should expect to be playing regularly. Sunderland are strong bets for promotion and once playing again, he will maintain his international squad place and from there he can push again to reclaim the shirt. Still, three out of four Premiership players are very welcome in the Northern Ireland defence. Elsewhere, Tom Flanagan had a strong season at Sunderland but missing out on promotion to the Championship was a blow for club and country.
Gold star to presently injured Oliver Norwood who had an outstanding season with Sheffield United. It would seem that playing in his native north of England is better for him but it will be interesting to see how he gets on in the Premiership. He might have a job getting his NI place back though.
One of those reasons is due to the form of Paddy McNair who despite a patchy season at Middlesbrough is blooming in the green shirt. Beside him, George Saville had a ‘satisfactory’ season on Teesside but both will look to see what happens with new manager Jonathan Woodgate. At present several clubs are looking at McNair but he sees himself as a box to box midfield player and has the power and physicality to achieve this. His versatility has probably worked against him up to now and his next decision could well be key to the rest of his career. His recent performances for Northern Ireland should help his case in that regard.
Amongst the more established players, Stuart Dallas had a great second half of the season following injury. Up in Scotland, the same happened with Steve Davis at Rangers and Jordan Jones should hit Ibrox with huge confidence after his international performances. Niall McGinn has an unfortunate end of season injury but all being well should pick up with Aberdeen again.
We’ll start in Scotland and Kyle Lafferty may well wonder where he may be playing next season. There were doubts on OTT about his move to Rangers as it was felt it might be best if he had stayed at Hearts. How ironic that Conor Washington, a man who does not miss career opportunities has nailed a place in the Hearts team. There is a strong Ulster contingent here and Austin McPhee will have had a lot to with this move. Expect Washington to have a good season ahead. We wait to see where Josh Magennis will end up as he did himself no harm either as far as shop windows go at the season’s end.
Liam Boyce had a decent season at Burton though Will Grigg needs to reboot at Sunderland to force his way back into the international reckoning. Paul Smyth had a good loan spell at Accrington though Shay McCartan has probably not moved forward much internationally despite a good season at Lincoln.
Most exciting of the Irish League transfers, of course, was Gavin Whyte who acquired five caps and a goal v Israel. His pace is now a major part of the international team and it remains to be seen whether Oxford will sell him to Nottingham Forest with the managerial heave-ho at the City ground.
Close behind him, Mark Sykes earned himself a place on the NI substitutes’ bench for the end of season games. He would hope to get his first cap perhaps in the Czech friendly in October. Great progress by the midfielder. Bobby Burns finished the season well at Hearts and he is in the same boat as Sykes.
All in all most of the Northern Ireland squad are in good club ‘nick’ at the time of observation. We can hope that things work out well for those needing new clubs.