Gareth McAuley eager to be in top shape for World Cup play-off

Northern Ireland veteran not featuring at present in the West Brom starting XI

Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley in action during the World Cup qualifier against Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. Photograph: William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho

Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley in action during the World Cup qualifier against Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. Photograph: William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho

 

Gareth McAuley is determined to reach peak physical condition for Northern Ireland’s World Cup play-off next month, even if it means playing for West Brom’s Under-23s.

The 37-year-old headed off for international duty last week having accumulated only 62 minutes of senior football due to a thigh injury that prevented him from being fit for the start of the season.

McAuley completed 90 minutes against Germany on Thursday and Norway three days later, and if fit will add to his 74-cap collection in November now that Northern Ireland’s place in the play-offs has been confirmed.

Yet he is not assured of a place in his club’s team before then as Tony Pulis has preferred newcomer Ahmed Hegazi, Craig Dawson and McAuley’s international team-mate Jonny Evans even when playing a back three.

The prospect of playing in Premier League 2 fixtures with the development squad over the next month is one McAuley is open to.

“Obviously being injured at the start of the season was not ideal as I wasn’t able to challenge for a place,” said McAuley. “I’ve got two games under my belt here and I just have to go back, train well and see what happens there.

“I’ll try and get some football anyway, even if it’s with the 23s or with the first team, I need to make sure I maintain fitness going into the games next month.”

McAuley could be tasked with trying to shackle a Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale next month depending on who Northern Ireland get when the play-off draw is made on October 17th.

Continent’s heavyweights

Their chances of being seeded for the draw would have been enhanced had they beaten Norway in Oslo on Sunday, but a disappointing 1-0 loss has left them more open to facing one of the continent’s heavyweights.

“A two-legged game, home and away, is difficult anyway, no matter who we get,” McAuley said.

“Hopefully the draw will be favourable for us but all the teams that are going to be involved there will be good sides.”

Northern Ireland knew they would be just two games from their first World Cup finals in 32 years around 53 minutes before they kicked off at the Ullevaal Stadion.

That was when the full-time whistle blew in Slovenia, where Scotland could only draw, and having their play-off fate sealed prior to playing may have been a contributing factor behind Northern Ireland’s below-par performance in Oslo.

“In the dressing room, lads were looking at their phones. We tried as much as we could to focus and cut that out but news filters through,” McAuley said.

“It changed the mindset a little bit. It makes it easier for the lads on yellows [and one game from a suspension] to get through the game without picking up another one. It maybe took an edge off it a little bit.

“We’ve got a play-off to look forward to. The lads were in there disappointed, flat, but we’ve got the play-off and that’s a massive positive.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.