Sunderland boss Simon Grayson has no issue with Paddy McNair’s inclusion in Northern Ireland’s World Cup play-off squad, even though he only returned from an 11-month injury lay-off on Saturday.
McNair featured in an 11-minute cameo from the bench against Bristol City on Saturday having previously been out since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in November.
Despite his limited game time, Michael O’Neill has still named McNair in his 27-man squad to face Switzerland next month in a two-legged tie that will determine if the Northern Irish reach the World Cup finals.
Grayson insists he has no qualms with the decision.
“It’s not a problem,” the Black Cats boss said.
“I spoke with Michael the other day and he’s got Paddy’s best interests at heart, as I have.
“Michael is certainly of the same opinion – that he will look after him while he is in the squad and link in with us. I will speak to him, probably in the next couple of days, just to let him know where we think we are with him regarding his position.
“But Michael is sensible enough to know that Paddy has been out a long time and he won’t jeopardise his future by rushing him back too quickly.
“But it’s just great for the lad as well psychologically to be back after a long time out, being in his country’s squad because he’s a passionate Irishman and wants to do well and wants to help them get to the World Cup.”
McNair could make two further Sunderland appearances before he links up with his country and O’Neill believes the prospect of being included for these all-or-nothing encounters would have spurred him on during his rehabilitation.
“He’s a young player and he had this target in his mind; it was important for him to be involved,” O’Neill said at a press conference on Monday.
“We can’t really assess him until we get him in, but it’s nice to have him back.
“It’s a boost for us. If Sunderland feel he’s fit enough to go on the pitch, as he did at the weekend, then we’re optimistic he’ll be fine when he joins up on Sunday.”
Nottingham Forest forward Jamie Ward, who missed the final five games of the group stage with a calf injury, is also back and O’Neill has included Aaron Hughes even though the veteran defender is yet to return from the calf problem that forced him to withdraw from the qualifiers with Germany and Norway at the start of the month.
Hughes, 37, has a chance to be back for Hearts against Kilmarnock on Sunday before linking up with his international colleagues in Belfast.
O’Neill has handed Scunthorpe defender Rory McArdle a recall, with the 30-year-old winning the last of his seven caps in March 2014, while midfield duo George Saville and Jordan Jones are retained after winning maiden call-ups for the last qualifiers.
Northern Ireland host Switzerland at Windsor Park on November 9 before the two meet again in the return leg in Basel three days later.
Northern Ireland squad: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Norwich), Alan Mannus (St. Johnstone); Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Paddy McNair (Sunderland), Daniel Lafferty (Sheffield United), Rory McArdle (Scunthorpe), Tom Flanagan (Burton); Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Gwangju), Oliver Norwood (Fulham), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Paul Paton (St. Johnstone), Matthew Lund (Burton), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), George Saville (Millwall); Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest).