Cathcart happy to be involved with Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart. Photo: Presseye
Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart. Photo: Presseye

Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart knows he may have to sit tight to become one of Michael O’Neill’s first-choice centre-backs but, for now, he is just happy to be part of the international squad.

Cathcart played a full 90 minutes alongside Gareth McAuley at the heart of defence in last night’s 3-3 draw with Finland.

Two goals inside the opening 20 minutes from Shane Ferguson and Kyle Lafferty put O’Neill’s men in the driving seat, before the visitors pulled one back, with Tim Sparv heading home. Minutes later, Teemu Pukki levelled matters when he capitalised on a poor back-pass from Chris Brunt.

An unstoppable Perparim Hetemaj free-kick midway through the second-half gave the Finns the lead, before a late Martin Paterson penalty salvaged a draw.

Speaking after the match, the 23-year-old told the Times: “I enjoyed tonight but, obviously, we are disappointed to lose three goals. I thought Finland were a decent outfit; they had some great attacking players and it was just good to get a result out of the game. We got three goals as well, which is positive.”

The Blackpool star has, for the most part, been utilised as a full-back for the international team, but with Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes missing for the Windsor Park friendly, he was handed a start in his favoured centre-back role. And the Newtownabbey man knows he may have to play the waiting game to make the position his own at international level.

“I’m just happy to be in the squad,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of good players in my position, but, as long as I’m in amongst it I will be happy.

“It’s only the second time I have played there for Northern Ireland and it’s where I play every week. It’s my bread-and-butter position. We have a lot of quality at centre-back but I’m not stupid, I know I may have to bide my time there. Hopefully, if I have a chance, I can stake a claim.”

His defensive partner McAuley spoke highly of the former Manchester United man’s ability and his appetite to represent his country.

“Craig is a great young player,” said the West Brom man. “He’s had a year in the Premier League and he’s hungry and thriving and he wants to play. We have four or five centre-backs in and around the squad but the competition for places is healthy.”

Next up for Cathcart is Saturday’s Championship opener at The New Den against Millwall.

“It will be a tough start but we know what to expect there,” he said. “We have looked decent in pre-season and we go into the new campaign full of confidence and, hopefully, we can push for promotion again.”

“I feel sharp,” he added. “I’ve had no injuries in pre-season and I haven’t missed a training session. I have had another 90 minutes under my belt tonight so I’m feeling good fitness-wise.”

Report by John Gillespie | Twitter: @Times_Sport