Euro 2016 hopefuls get a final chance to stake their claim

Liam Boyce and Wigan's Will Grigg are vying for a place in Michael O'Neil's Northern Ireland squad
Andy Watters

LIAM Boyce is one of the hopefuls who will get a chance to push their case for a place in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland Euro 2016 squads in tonight’s friendlies.

Northern Ireland take on Belarus at Windsor Park and with manager Michael O’Neill due to name his tournament squad tomorrow, it looks like former Cliftonville star Boyce still has work still to do.

Ross County striker Boyce made a convincing case for inclusion with 20 goals in 44 games last season but he is competing with the “on fire” Will Grigg who hit 25 goals in 43 outings for League One outfit Wigan Athletic.

Strikers Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis are certain to travel to France so there is only room for one more frontman.

Michael O’Neill has a difficult decision to make in attack and defence where Daniel Lafferty, Michael Smith and Luke McCullough hope to be picked.

Meanwhile, the Republic take on Holland at the Aviva Stadium with Harry Arter, Stephen Quinn and Derry pair Darron Gibson and Eunan O’Kane hoping to force their way into Martin O’Neill’s 23-man selection.

Gibson’s Everton team-mate James McCarthy will go to the finals even if he doesn’t kick another ball in anger before Martin O’Neill names his squad after next Tuesday’s friendly against Belarus.

The 25-year-old will sit out tonight’s friendly with the Dutch as he nurses a thigh problem. However, O’Neill has been reassured that McCarthy’s injury is nothing sinister and said: “If James doesn’t play in any of the two games, but feels that’s all it is – the scans have been pretty clear – yes, I think James has done enough to be in to be in the 23.

“He’s been a major part of proceedings and that would be a type of situation that I would certainly look at and feel, well, if this is just an injury that just needs a little bit of extra time, and he has played a lot of games for Everton.

“I watched him recently when he played very well against Watford, scored a goal and scored another goal just in recent times – not just that, but his overall performances were fine and he has had a run of games – then perhaps those extra couple of days might do him the world of good.

“That’s the situation. What I wouldn’t like is to be going in with two or three players whose fitness has been a concern, not just over a day or two, but over a period of time.”

Aiden McGeady – also Scotland born with Donegal roots – looks certain to be on the plane to France. McGeady left Everton for Sheffield Wednesday on loan in January in an effort to keep his hopes of making the Euros alive and his presence in Dublin this week came as something of a surprise with Wednesday preparing for the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.

Manager Carlos Carvalhal’s decision to dispense with his services has at least given McGeady time to throw himself into his international duties.

O’Neill said: “I think he’s been a bit disappointed the way the season has gone for him.

“He went out on loan in January with the Euros in mind – he could have sat back and maybe played the occasional game for Everton, but it looked as if he wasn’t going to get a look in and at least he made the effort to get out and play.

“For whatever reason, he is not finishing at Sheffield Wednesday, but at least he is here with us and I reiterate, he does have that ability to go past players and create something for you.”

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