Hearts teenager Bobby Burns could win first full Northern Ireland cap tonight

Hearts teenager Bobby Burns is pushing for a senior debut with Northern Ireland in tonight's friendly against Luxembourg.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 10:54 am
Hearts youngster Bobby Burns is due to be on the bench for Northern Ireland tonight

He is due to start on the substitutes' bench as one of several Under-21 players promoted to train with the full squad.

The versatile 19-year-old has made only one first-team appearance for Hearts so far this season but will win his maiden Northern Ireland cap if he plays against Luxembourg at Windsor Park.

Under-21 coach Ian Baraclough initially named Burns in his pool for this week's European Championship qualifiers against Malta and Finland. Senior coach Michael O'Neill asked him to step up alongside Leeds United's Alfie McCalmont, Cardiff City's Ciaron Brown and former St Johnstone midfielder Kyle McClean.

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"There's a possibility that some of those young lads could be involved on the bench," said O'Neill. "We won't just give them game-time for the sake of giving it to them. Have they earned it? Mark [Sykes] is not playing at Oxford so he's a late call-up. He did well with us in the summer. Shayne [Lavery] has done great for Linfield and he's a player we know well.

"It's an opportunity but the objective is to get a good performance and try and get a good result. The players that need that little bit of fitness or game-time, they'll get that. It will be an opportunity for the supporters to see some of the potential players that are coming through, and hopefully that will be exciting.

"It's the one thing I would love to change about international football," he added. "In the past, the Under-21 team would travel with the senior team and would play the night before. I think, for a smaller nation, that's really beneficial.

"This is the first time since Ian has come in that we've had the opportunity to do this. It keeps the quality in the group and it lets us see them. From Ian's group in the last campaign, ten of those players have been in the squad now. Hopefully that sends a message to young players that the pathway to play international football is very quick with Northern Ireland."

O'Neill's side face Germany in a vital Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday and it remains to be seen if any under-21s are involved.

Former Rangers and Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty will feature this evening. He wasn't due to arrive from Norway until today having been a late call-up on Wednesday morning. He was sent off on his debut for new club Sarpsborg 08 on Sunday and is short of match sharpness.

"Kyle, having played 67 minutes at the weekend, is in a little bit better shape," said O'Neill. "We can give him some more minutes and then see where he is at. We have an injury doubt with Liam Boyce and Will Grigg was unavailable for personal reasons.

"[Lafferty] wasn't in the original squad because he didn't have a club. It's impossible to ask a player to come and play international football without having a club. It's a risk to them in terms of the chance of getting an injury and trying to get a contract.

"We have to remember where Kyle is. The last time he started a club game was [for Rangers] against Cowdenbeath in January. He played for us in the two games in March and contributed a lot for the 65 minutes he had in his legs.

"He's not going to be what he has the potential to be but he can contribute. We'll see how long that is when we make our decision on the team."