Grigg and Washington return to Northern Ireland squad
First call-up for Arsenal U-23 defender Daniel Ballard
Will Grigg: back in the Northern Ireland squad for the games against Estonia and Belarus. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Strikers Will Grigg and Conor Washington are back and there is a first call-up for Arsenal U-23 defender Daniel Ballard in the Northern Ireland squad for this month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus.
Grigg returns after missing the friendly against the Republic of Ireland and Uefa Nations League match against Austria in November because of injury.
Washington has not been involved in Northern Ireland’s last four games, with boss Michael O’Neill in October saying he had requested to be omitted from the squad due to personal reasons.
Nineteen-year-old Ballard, who has played four times for Northern Ireland’s U-21s, is the only new face in the 27-man squad named by O’Neill on Tuesday.
Midfielder Oliver Norwood, Washington’s Sheffield United team-mate, is not included due to personal reasons. Michael Smith, Jamie Ward and Kyle Vassell are injured, and Trevor Carson is recovering from the DVT injury detected following the internationals in November.
Rangers’ Gareth McAuley has been named in the 27 despite having treatment on a calf injury in recent weeks.
O’Neill’s men host Estonia on March 21st and then Belarus three days later.
Regarding Norwood, O’Neill told Sky Sports News: “Ollie in recent weeks had asked to take a step back from international football at this minute in time. He has personal reasons for making that decision.
“It is a disappointment. He has been a big part of the success we’ve had here at Northern Ireland. He’s a very important player, with over 50 caps.
“But we have to respect his decision, and hopefully he’ll be back with the squad soon because I know both myself and the players would like him back.”
NORTHERN IRELAND Squad: Michael McGovern, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor Hazard. Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin, Paddy McNair, Jamal Lewis, Tom Flanagan, Daniel Ballard. Steven Davis, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Stuart Dallas, George Saville, Jordan Jones, Gavin Whyte, Jordan Thompson. Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce, Will Grigg, Paul Smyth.