International boss left frustrated by Preston North End midfielder's absence during Euro 2024 qualifying campaign

Midfielder hasn't featured for club or country since October 4

Preston North End's Ali McCannPreston North End's Ali McCann
Preston North End's Ali McCann

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has expressed frustration with Ali McCann’s availability during his side’s current Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

The Ulstermen conclude their round of fixtures for next summer’s finals with games against Finland tonight and Denmark on Monday.

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They’ll be looking to produce a positive finish on a generally disappointing campaign that has witnessed just two wins from eight matches and leaves O’Neill’s side second from bottom in Group H.

But Northern Ireland will once again have to do it without the services of Preston midfielder McCann, who has been nursing a calf injury since the Lilywhites’ defeat to Leicester on October 4. That has seen the 23-year-old miss Preston’s last six games, with a return date later this month anticipated.

It also forced the former St Johnstone ace to miss the October internationals against San Marino and Slovenia. And with a thigh tear picked up in February ruling McCann out for the qualifying campaign’s start back in March, it means the Deepdale favourite will have featured just three times for his country this calendar year.

That’s proved frustrating for O’Neil in his second period in charge as Northern Ireland manager.

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Speaking ahead of tonight’s game in Helsinki, the former Stoke boss said: ‘The squad is very similar to what the previous game was. We’re still without obviously the longer-term injuries. We're still missing Conor Bradley and Alistair McCann for example is still missing, Shayne Lavery is still missing through injury.

‘So, you know, they are three players that we would have hoped to have had a lot more out of this campaign but their involvement has been very minimal on top of the older players who have missed out 

‘Look, I think the squad is pretty consistent. It is what it is in terms of where we are at this moment in time. The supporters have been really good. They understand, I think where we are. They have a patience, but obviously, they want a team that will give them hope and something to get excited about.’

McCann has eight caps for Northern Ireland following his international debut against Austria in November 2020. He has feature 12 times for Ryan Lowe's side this season, eight of which have come as Championship starts.