The new Northern Ireland manager, Lawrie Sanchez, has laid down a clear set of ground rules ahead of his opening game in charge.
Sanchez yesterday named a 24-man squad for the friendly against Norway at Windsor Park a week today.
That number will be whittled down to 18 by the time they face Poland in their opening qualifying match in September for the 2006 World Cup. Northern Ireland also have group games against England, Wales, Austria and Azerbaijan to contend with. And in a clear statement of intent, Sanchez has made it plain he will only pick those players who are playing first team football for their clubs.
The former Wycombe Wanderers manager, who is due to meet the squad on Monday, said: "This is the first get-together and nobody is quite certain which of the 24 will be down to the 18 when we come to play against Poland in September. "I will say to them: 'If you want to be in the 18, here are the people you are going to be competing against. You have got to have good club form so you can take that into the international arena.'
"I don't want people just thinking that even though they are not playing for their clubs, because they have always played for Northern Ireland they will always continue to play. To be honest it hasn't worked in the last two years.
"From now on I am going to cut down the number and players need to show me what it means to them - they can do that with their performances on the field.
"It is hard to be sitting on the bench or playing in the reserves then come and play international football and expect to be in a groove.
"Playing for their clubs is important if they want to play in the international team for the next couple of years."
Sanchez's squad is full of familiar faces - although there are a few surprises. The Nottingham Forest midfielder Danny Sonner has been recalled to the squad for the first time in three years and there is also a place for the defender Mark Williams. Williams has returned to Wimbledon after a spell in America with Columbus Crew.
The striker James Quinn, who plays for the Dutch side Willem II, is also recalled as Northern Ireland attempt to end their time without a goal which stretches over 1,242 minutes. Like Williams, Quinn missed the latter part of the Euro 2004 qualifying campaign.
Sanchez continued: "Sonner and Williams both come into the category I am looking for, in that they are playing in the top two flights in English football. As for Quinn everyone knows our scoring record and I want to talk to everyone who has a chance of being involved."
Sanchez also has his backroom staff in place. Gerry Armstrong is the assistant manager while Terry Gibson and the goalkeeper Dave Beasant also join the coaching staff.
They will link up with Northern Ireland on a match-to-match basis. Sanchez said: "While I am the figurehead of the organisation, it's important you have good people around you who you can trust, and who can work well with the players."
NORTHERN IRELAND squad (v Norway at Windsor Park on 18 February): Taylor (Birmingham City), Carroll (Manchester United), Baird (Southampton), A Hughes (Newcastle United), McCartney (Sunderland), Kennedy (Wigan Athletic), Griffin (Stockport County), Craigan (Motherwell), Murdock (Hibernian), Williams (Wimbledon); Gillespie (Leicester City), Johnson (Birmingham City), Mulryne (Norwich City), Whitley (Sunderland), Sonner (Nottingham Forest), M Hughes (C Palace), McVeigh (Norwich City), Elliott (Hull City), Jones (Crewe), Healy (Preston North End), Hamilton (Portadown), Smith (Glentoran), Quinn (Willem 11), Kirk (Hearts).Reuse content