Century of caps within Gillespie's reach, insists Worthington

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The Independent Online

Keith Gillespie can go on to win 100 caps for Northern Ireland, according to new manager Nigel Worthington. The Sheffield United winger is set to pull on the national jersey for the 77th and 78th times in next month's qualifiers against Latvia and Iceland and Worthington believes a century is within the 32-year-old's reach.

"Anything's possible as long as you have a little bit of luck as far as injuries are concerned, the legs stay there with you and you've got a desire to do it," Worthington said. "That's a big thing, having the desire and enthusiasm to try and make these achievements. If Keith wants to do it and he stays fit then I'm sure he can do it."

Gillespie has been a mainstay of the Northern Ireland squad since making his debut almost 13 years ago.

Much has changed both on and off the field for the former Manchester United youngster, one of the original "Fergie Fledglings".

While Northern Ireland were struggling to even find the back of the net not so long ago, Gillespie reportedly had his own problems away from the game.

But the fortunes of both have transformed since, with Worthington taking over a side with a chance of reaching their first European Championship finals and Gillespie having matured into a family man.

Worthington roomed with Gillespie towards the end of his own international playing career and is better placed than many to notice the change.

"Keith was in the squad as a young player when I was coming towards the twilight of my career," Worthington said. "We were room-mates. Keith's a big talent and what I've noticed having met him is that he's matured from a young person into a family man.

"It's helped stabilise his performances on the football pitch and he's playing regular football with his club."

While David Healy continues to take all the plaudits, Gillespie also maintained his fine recent form in last week's 3-1 qualifying victory against Liechtenstein, setting up the striker's opening goal.

Worthington added: "Having watched some of the internationals before taking over, his performance level was exceptional and I've got to say his attitude last week and his performance again was of a very high standard and one I'm delighted about."

Meanwhile, Worthington will give injured captain Aaron Hughes as much time as possible to recover ahead of next month's Group F qualifiers.

Hughes, 27, has yet to kick a ball in anger for new club Fulham after suffering an ankle injury in pre-season and missed Worthington's first game in charge last week.

Birmingham midfielder Damien Johnson (hamstring) and Manchester United youngster Jonny Evans (groin) have also yet to feature for club or country this season after withdrawing from the squad for last week's Liechtenstein match.

The former Norwich manager is determined to give all three ample opportunity to prove their fitness ahead of the trips to Latvia and Iceland.

"At the moment Aaron Hughes is extremely doubtful," Worthington said. "Damien Johnson hopefully will start joining in training this week, but it'll be touch and go. Likewise Jonny Evans. I will give them as much time as I can before I bring in any replacements.

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