FOOTBALL: Gareth McAuley will be missed says Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill

Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley
Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill admits losing defender Gareth McAuley for the World Cup Qualifiers against San Marino and the Czech Republic is a major blow.

McAuley has been an ever present in the side since the manager took over the reins in 2011 and O’Neill admits McAuley will be missed as NI look to take a giant step towards the World Cup Finals.

“Gareth is a huge blow to us. He has missed very few games in the time that I have been in charge.

“He played in all ten qualification games for France and he has played in every game of this campaign to date.

“It is a big blow to us, but we could see it coming as he has been struggling a little bit and he has never really recovered from the injury he picked up at the end of last season.”

West Brom defender Jonny Evans has been named in the squad - while Liam Boyce misses out after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in pre-season and Nottingham Forest’s Jamie Ward is out with a calf injury.

O’Neill was gutted that Boyce picked up his injury just after his transfer from Ross County to Burton Albion.

“With Liam it is very difficult for him and it is a shame for Liam and a shame for Burton.

“He was a big investment and it was a great move for him, was doing well in preseason and then he picks-up the injury.

“We just hope he is back in a position to play before the end of the season.

“With Jamie he is always high risk because oif the injuries he picks up.

“It was one calf and then the other ruled him out of the game against Azerbaijan.

“Jamie is a player that I would prefer to have him available because you have the options of playing him wide or through the middle.”

QPR’s Conor Washington has been recalled after he missed the last qualifier to get married and Jonny’s brother Corry Evans is another addition from the most recent squad having overcome a groin injury.

There is also a place for Craig Cathcart but an injury to Sunderland’s Paddy McNair keeps him out out and Will Grigg is on standby.