Captain Craig Cathcart confident NI can prevail in San Marino
When (relatively) near Rome, you could do with centurions, but NI's most experienced men, long-serving captain Steven Davis and his occasional stand-in Jonny Evans are both ruled out by injury.
So, on the occasion of his 70th cap, Craig Cathcart will skipper the side. The Greenisland man, who recently turned 34, stepped away from the international scene last year, only playing in the first two matches of 2022, so it's almost full 12 months since he featured for Northern Ireland.
The Watford player is delighted to be back, under the also returning Michael O'Neill, and also pleased to be set to lead the team out against San Marino:
"I felt like I needed a break at that stage of my career. I felt like I needed a summer off and I enjoyed time with my family but when I spoke to Michael on the phone, I was happy to come back into the fold. Absolutely it feels good to be back…
"I think growing up for everyone it would have been a big thing to lead your country out as a captain so, yes, it is a massive moment in my career. It has obviously come a bit later than I would probably have liked but, yes, I'm really pleased to get the opportunity."
No negativity from NI boss Michael O'Neill
Cathcart knows Davis and Evans may be missed, but is positive about the younger players brought into the panel: "There's obviously a freshness to the squad with a lot of new faces but the young lads have come in and haven't looked out of place at all. They've picked up things very quickly and I'd say the future is definitely bright.
"We can't look past San Marino but if we turn up and put on a professional performance and perform to the level that we expect then we'll definitely get a positive result."
Indeed with O'Neill back, Cathcart believes this team can qualify for another major tournament: "Yes, definitely. I look back to 2016 personally and it makes me ambitious to want to get there again. It was a great experience in my career and probably the most enjoyable time in my career. The ambition is to do it again and I think we can do that with Michael."