Football/Soccer

Gulf between League of Ireland and Irish League says NI manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn began his career with Dungannon Swifts

MICHAEL O’NEILL says there is a gulf in the standard of football between the leagues north and south of the border.

The Northern Ireland manager - who began his playing career with Coleraine - has named four former Irish League players in his squad for the November 11 World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan. Alan Mannus (Linfield), Gareth McAuley (Coleraine), Niall McGinn (Dungannon Swifts) and Stuart Dallas (Crusaders) are all included, but former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll hasn’t been in the squad since he signed for Linfield.

“I don’t think our players are playing at a high enough level to come in and challenge to be in the international squad,” said O’Neill.

“You have to remember that our league is ranked 47th in Europe, so it’s not a fantastic standard of football that the boys are coming from. We have picked a number of young Irish League players for the U21 squad and some of them have done well and some of them have failed to turn up so there’s a professionalism aspect there that needs to be addressed within the domestic league as well.”

At last summer’s European Championship, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill - who also started his playing career in the Irish League - included eight League of Ireland players in his squad.

Michael O’Neill says Dundalk’s performance in the Europa League highlight the difference in standard between the leagues north and south of the border.

“Of course there is a gulf,” he said.

“Dundalk are in the group stages of the Europa League, Shamrock Rovers have been in the group stages of the Europa League three or four years ago.

“You only have to look at our clubs’ results in Europe to determine the gulf. We try to promote the young players who are playing in our league by giving them experience at U21 level.

"Hopefully, their involvement at U21 level will enhance their careers.”

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