Summer 2018. Do we Northern Ireland fans view the club situations of some of our players as the September internationals loom just like the summer just passed? Some stuff to warm us well but latterly perhaps more of a mixed front. Let’s tighten our isobars and have a look at how it’s all looking. Various circumstances mean there are quite a few players to get through so we’ll start in the East Midlands where we have one of our best ever defenders Jonny Evans now fox hunting instead of suffering thrush if we want to take nicknames to some mad extreme. His move from WBA to Leicester has caused plenty of chat bearing in mind he was supposedly nearly off to Arsenal/Manchester City earlier in the year.
I have little doubt he could have done a job for each but I selfishly consider how it affects NI through all this and I am more than happy that he is at Leicester. A player playing regularly for a side where he is hugely important is more than good enough for me as against the dazzling lights of Champions League football where he may be a squad player or playing extra games and missing internationals. Leicester are a more than decent side obtaining good players, and alongside Harry Maguire, Leicester may well have two of the better ball playing centre-backs in the top flight. Evans will not learn much more at this stage of his career and I feel he can be a huge leader of the team which I see transferring easily to Windsor Park. Jonny’s happy about it so that’s fine by me as WBA can’t have been easy this last year or so.
Another interesting transfer bound to benefit us is Josh Magennis’ trot north to Bolton Wanderers. I’m not sure I saw this coming but a few things for me. Firstly, this is the highest club level Josh will probably have played at arguably and putting it another way he will get different challenges to his game than previously which will be good. He wasn’t doing too badly at Charlton, but as a club, they were a bit unstable and I always felt the next manager may not take a shine to him. The big thing is the confidence he will derive from a higher level club wanting him to lead their line and indeed he arrives there as an international player who played at the Euros. He has a few goals already so all this is showing. Well earned big man. He should be a favourite with Trotters’ fans.
Paddy McNair is a really important player now and for the future with his ability and versatility. I see him and George Saville being the midfield powerhouse in the medium future as Steve Davis starts to wind down. McNair has the physicality and as we saw at the end of last season he can score goals too. The move keeps him in the same area and Tony Pulis had huge respect for his Ulster boys at West Brom and will see the same qualities in McNair. We don’t know how strong the Brighton interest was in him but they could struggle this season and whilst our players are reducing in the top flight I would prefer he plays regularly. He no doubt has had his fill of struggle after last season at Sunderland and with the recent injuries, one could argue he is really only getting going now.
Another player that concerned me was perennial wanderer Ollie Norwood as every summer he seems to have to sort out his club future. I like Chris Wilder as a manager and hope he gives Ollie plenty of Sheffield United minutes on the pitch as he remains a very important player for NI. He is yet another player whose finest career moments will have been in an international rather than a club shirt.
The decision of Aaron Hughes to give football one last season did not surprise me. To be wanted by both your club and international managers at his age is both motivating and complementary. He is such a good professional and his game is still well up to the mark. He will be managed well but will he break big Pat’s appearance record? The right of defence is still a debate between him and Conor McLaughlin, who along with Shane Ferguson, is not hitting the first team down Bermondsey way. Aaron, your heart is in the right place.
Still, on an upward curve territory, it is good to see Corry Evans back in the Championship hopefully with his injury problems behind him. He has become integral to Tony Mowbray’s midfield at Blackburn and the club seem to be working their way through the Venky’s issues though not much bothers Corry, who is a fairly focused individual on and off the pitch. Will Grigg who has also moved up a division remains a source of interest but this squad will be defining for him.
Honourable mentions to the following as well. Ryan McGlaughlin and Jordan Thompson who have acquired moves to Blackpool respectively from Oldham and Rangers. Shayne Lavery has earned a professional contract at Everton. Likewise, the two Irish League lads Bobby Burns and Gavin Whyte have fulfilled the promise and moved across the water. Burns has joined the ever-growing Ulster contingent at Hearts and Whyte has already scored his first goal for Oxford United. However, let’s get them used to full-time football and settled but they could be used sooner rather than later. In the ‘still to establish themselves’ area it will be interesting to see how centre-back Tom Flanagan gets on at Sunderland as he had lost his way at Burton. Still brewing there of course is Liam Boyce who is showing indications he will continue to score goals in a yellow or green shirt, League One or not. Lee Hodson and Luke McCullough’s loan move to St. Mirren and Tranmere respectively should help them move their careers on.
So, we have a few players left that I want to mention who have question marks beside them. Trevor Carson may well have eased pressure off the goalkeeping situation but Michael McGovern at the moment looks set for another season on an East Anglian bench. Yellow splinters may take on a greener hue as well this season. I worry as well about Stuart Dallas at Leeds but his left foot and versatility could serve him well in what could be an interesting season at Elland Road. It should be said though that Kilmarnock’s Jordan Jones has popped his head through the green shirt in that position this year.
So to some very senior players. Matt McKay has already covered Gareth McAuley’s situation and as a free agent let’s hope that helps him in getting a club. Steve Davis is not piercing the Southampton starting squad never mind team and with an injury and a new manager to deal with this year he has a lot going on. He is fit and I don’t doubt he has plenty to offer club and country but a definite concern on England’s south coast will affect south – west Belfast. Michael O’ Neill has prepared the ground already for Chris Brunt’s retirement and OTT have marked his retirement with an article by Matt McKay.
Jamie Ward is the Ollie Norwood of the forward line as he tends to be moved around clubs and loaned out here and there. Like Ollie, it tends to do no harm internationally but again let’s see and hear you, Jamie, come out of that Forest.
Finally Kyle. And I mean Lafferty as after Sri Lankan adventures he might not be the only Kyle on the move. I’m fairly 50/50 on this move to Rangers and I can well understand his wish to be part of the Gerrard revolution at his boyhood club and of course, this is his everyday job. However, I have my Windsor quill in my hand and am interested what translates best into a green shirt.
He has had a quietish couple of years internationally and with the team being a bit goal-shy recently we could do with a blast from him. His finally getting some settlement at Hearts has been so encouraging but then again his best period for NI was when he was here, there and everywhere clubwise. So, do we onlookers make too much of club life? Perhaps, but I just get a bit nervous thinking that the Glasgow colosseum could upset his delicate applecart now that it had steadied in Edinburgh.
Just to finish – it has struck me just how many players I have mentioned and also a few not discussed around the international side so this has to be encouraging. We’ll see just how much in the next few weeks.