Football/Soccer

Ever-ready Norwood offers advice to Northern Ireland's new faces

Oliver Norwood is ready for Northern Ireland's friendly international against South Korea and hopes younger players will be too.

Northern Ireland v Korea Republic (2pm today, Windsor Park, international friendly)

THE major excitement and anticipation – some exaggeration may apply here – ahead of yesterday's press conference surrounded which player would be 'put up'.

In the absence of skipper Steven Davis, who stayed at Southampton due to a slight hamstring problem, perhaps we should have guessed it would be the ever-reliable Ollie Norwood.

The midfielder revealed the rather remarkable fact that he's always been injury-free in his senior career, stating: "I'm always available, I've never missed a training session since I turned professional, I'm always ready.

"In terms of playing a game I'm looking forward to getting out there and hopefully we can get a win and start to build some momentum again."

Starting isn't his choice, as he well knows, most recently having been left out by Fulham, where he is on loan from Premiership Brighton: "Yeah, I've been out the team the last few games but I always keep myself fit and ready to play."

He prompted some laughter, though, with his response to the suggestion that he'll be the main man in midfield with `Davo' missing: "I don't know if I'm playing yet."

He's ready for the responsibility, although clearly the captain is a loss to NI: "I've played enough games at this level to know what needs to be done. The lads in there with me will help with that.

"Obviously we'll miss Davo, he's our best player I'd say, been brilliant for years. There might be a time in the campaign when he might be injured or miss out so it'll be interesting to see how we cope without him."

With Stuart Dallas, Kyle Lafferty, and Niall McGinn among other experienced absentees, there will be opportunities for some younger players.

Jamal Lewis is set to start at left-back, George Saville and Jordan Jones are likely to feature again in midfield, while U21s Paul Smyth and Shayne Lavery could get some time in attack.

Having come through the U21 route himself, the Burnley-born Norwood offered praise to the younger players – but first a few words of warning:

"The core of the squad is still there. There's always going to be new introductions, people doing well at their clubs.

"Without being disrespectful to the squads of the past, I don't think it's as easy to get in now as it maybe was before. We've probably 30 players to pick from for 25 places, so competition's good.

"We want to build on that. We've had success but we're not happy with what we've achieved, we're not settling on that, we want to kick on and go on.

"The young lads have been great. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was coming into the squad; they've got to work hard and look to impress Michael [O'Neill], do everything in training that they can.

"For us as players it's great, you see that energy they bring, as a senior player now it makes you up your game. They've got to come in and look to take people's shirts off them."

Norwood was impressed by Ian Baraclough's boys as they equalised three times against Spain before eventually losing 5-3 in Thursday night's U21 qualifier:

"Yeah, they were good, they were unlucky against classy opposition. To score three goals against Spain and not come away with anything, they're probably a bit gutted about that. But there's a few players that will hopefully be knocking on the door and coming to join us soon…

"When I was in the 21s it was a big thing, getting to train with the senior boys, just watching what they do, how they handle themselves, how they behave, how they train. Little things like that, how they go about their work every day, is something the young boys have to look at.

"The only thing you can say to them is `Get your head down and work because the chances will come'. They've got to be ready when that chance comes and not let that pass you by."

Ollie Norwood is always ready – the challenge to some younger players today is to prove that they are too.

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