O'NEILL HOPING McPAKE STARTS TREND
Scotland-born James McPake is set to make his Northern Ireland debut against Holland tonight, with manager Michael O'Neill hoping to persuade up to half a dozen players to follow his example.
Coventry defender McPake, who ended last season captaining Hibernian during a loan spell, is with the Northern Ireland squad for the first time in Amsterdam this week after switching his allegiance earlier this year.
He qualifies by virtue of his grandfather and O'Neill, in a bid to expand the squad he inherited from Nigel Worthington, has been busily investigating other players who may be eligible for Northern Ireland duty.
McPake is the only one to have agreed so far, but O'Neill revealed private conversations had been held with several others and he hopes to turn more heads before the World Cup campaign gets under way in September.
And the sight of McPake, who had accepted a Scotland call would never come, stepping out to face the likes of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben at the Amsterdam ArenA may be the just the encouragement they need.
"James has come in, it's his first time in the squad and a first for him in terms of his association with Northern Ireland and he has really embraced the whole thing," O'Neill said.
"We have to look at others. We're no different to any other country, like Scotland, Wales or the Republic of Ireland.
"Finding more players who are eligible is a huge part of international football for smaller nations and we're no exception in that respect.
"There's a huge focus on building the depth of the player pool that is available between now and September.
"There are up to half a dozen players I've spoken to who have yet to make that commitment. They haven't said no but they haven't committed yet.
"I don't think it's anything you get a really quick decision on but it's a work in progress."
O'Neill is without a host of senior men - including Aaron Hughes, Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt, Chris Baird and Gareth McAuley - for the clash.
With expectations so low against a side who are among the favourites for Euro 2012, O'Neill could be forgiven for treating the match as a time for experimentation.
Instead, he insists he is using it as vital preparation for future qualifying trips.
"You have to approach it the same way as you would approach a qualification game," said O'Neill.
"You try and get home with some type of positive result and that's exactly how we'll approach this match. We've got to go to Russia in September and then Portugal in October and we'll approach those games in a very similar fashion to this one.
"The Dutch team are probably better than either of those sides but the experience of being out here - in such a magnificent arena to play in - will be invaluable when we go into those qualification games."
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