Q Radio Sport
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has named a 26-strong panel for the matches against Italy, Bulgaria and USA this month.
GAWA face the Italians in Parma in their first FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier next Thursday (25 March) followed by a home friendly against USA on Sunday 28 March and a second European Qualifying Group C World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in Belfast on Wednesday 31 March.
Baraclough’s squad for the triple header shows four changes from the panel chosen for Northern Ireland’s last outing, the UEFA Nations League game against Romania in Belfast back in November.
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has named a 26-strong panel for the matches against Italy, Bulgaria and USA this month. Accrington Stanley striker Dion Charles, prolific in League One this season, and Derry City goalkeeper Nathan Gartside have received first call-ups: pic.twitter.com/HWxFxjl4qN— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) March 18, 2021
Accrington Stanley striker Dion Charles, who has been prolific in League One this season, and Derry City goalkeeper Nathan Gartside have received their first call-ups to the senior squad. Both have previously played for Northern Ireland at both Under-21 and U19 level.
Experienced Blackburn Rovers midfielder Corry Evans returns to the panel after a lengthy absence through injury, while also back is defender Ciaron Brown, who has returned to parent club Cardiff City following a successful loan spell at Scottish Premiership side Livingston.
Vice-captain Jonny Evans (Leicester City) has recovered from a niggling calf injury to take his place in the squad, while Kilmarnock striker Kyle Lafferty is also fit and raring to go despite a three-month sojourn between his stint at Reggina in Italy last year and signing for the ScottishPremiership club last month.
Missing out this time are Manchester United midfielder Ethan Galbraith, Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan and Rochdale full-back Ryan McLaughlin. All four were in the panel for the game against Romania in November.
Veteran keeper Michael McGovern (Norwich City) was also in the squad for the Romania match, however both he and Trevor Carson (Motherwell) have since picked up long-term injuries and that has paved the way for Nathan Gartside to join the group.
Sunderland winger Jordan Jones looked set to return to the panel after being excluded from the group for the triple header in November after breaking Covid-19 protocols at parent club Rangers. However, he has sustained an injury and is not available.
Northern Ireland squad for triple header:
Goalkeepers – Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Burnley), Conor Hazard (Celtic), Nathan Gartside (Derry City).
Defenders – Jonathan Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), Conor McLaughlin (Sunderland), Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United), Daniel Ballard (Blackpool – on loan from Arsenal), Ciaron Brown (Cardiff City).
Midfielders – Steven Davis (Rangers), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian), Matthew Kennedy (Aberdeen), Jordan Thompson (Stoke City), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Alistair McCann (St Johnstone).
Forwards – Kyle Lafferty (Kilmarnock), Josh Magennis (Hull City), Conor Washington (Charlton Athletic), Liam Boyce (Heart of Midlothian), Gavin Whyte (Hull City – on loan from Cardiff City), Dion Charles (Accrington Stanley).
The weekend matches in the Danske Bank Premiership kick off with leaders Linfield away to Crusaders.
Meanwhile, the countdown is on for the Women's Premiership with the fixtures released:
It wasn't just the NI football squad that was named on Thursday, rugby teams were also picked:
Ireland team named for Saturday's #GuinnessSixNations finale against England at @AVIVAStadium! 🙌🟢— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) March 18, 2021
Henderson, Herring and Stockdale start!#ShoulderToShoulder #IrishRugby #IREvENG pic.twitter.com/gmgmryBxJc