Bradford City boss Parkinson backs McArdle to crown career at Euro 2016

PHIL PARKINSON has backed Rory McArdle to become Bradford City’s first player to win a place at a major finals for more than three decades as Northern Ireland close in on qualification for Euro 2016.

EURO DREAM: Bradford City central defender Rory McArdle, right, is back in the Northern Ireland squad for the European qualifiers. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The 28-year-old defender was a late call-up for the squad to face Greece and Finland in the final two games of qualification.

Michael O’Neill’s side need just two points to book their place at next summer’s tournament in France, the first time Northern Ireland will have qualified for one of football’s showpiece events since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Bobby Campbell was part of the Irish squad that competed in Spain ’82 but no current Bradford player has made the final cut for a major tournament since then with Dan Petrescu only moving to Valley Parade in a £1m transfer from Chelsea two months after representing Romania at Euro 2000.

McArdle, therefore, has a chance to make history for both club and country ahead of tonight’s qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park and Sunday’s trip to Finland.

Parkinson said: “Rory has earned his call. I am surprised he hasn’t got the call before this week, if I am honest. I have been surprised by those who got in before him.

“He has a chance (of being in the squad for Euro 2016). It would be the absolute pinnacle of his career to go to a major Championships.

“Personally, I do believe he is good enough to play. He has the pace to cope with those type of players. He won’t let anyone down if he gets his chance.”

McArdle’s late call came on Monday afternoon as O’Neill reacted to a flurry of defensive problems among his squad.

West Bromwich Albion’s Jonny Evans had remained at The Hawthorns to undergo treatment on a hamstring problem, while club colleague Gareth McAuley is short of full fitness.

Right-back Conor McLaughlin and Chris Baird are also suspended, prompting the call-up for McArdle. The Bantams defender has 19 full caps to his name, the most recent having come in a goalless draw against Cyprus in March last year. His debut came against Turkey in May, 2010.

Parkinson, who signed McArdle in 2012, added: “He has always done well for Northern Ireland whenever called upon.

“I don’t know the rules but with the late notice we could possibly have insisted he played against Barnsley (in Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie that was postponed shortly before the scheduled kick-off).

“But we wouldn’t do that, as it would be unfair to Rory and his chances of representing his country – especially with the fact they have a great chance of qualifying for the finals.”

McArdle is one of four City players away on international duty, a flurry of absentees that prompted Saturday’s League One game with Blackpool to be postponed.

James Meredith could make his Australia debut in today’s World Cup qualifier against Jordan, while loanees Lee Evans and Reece Burke are away with Wales Under-21s and England Under-20s, respectively.

The Welsh face Denmark in a European Championship qualifier tomorrow, while Burke is competing in the Mercedes-Benz Elite Cup in Germany.

Parkinson said: “Like James Meredith, Rory getting called up is a feather in the cap for the club. I am pleased for both lads.

“I know Rory has been called up before but it is still special. For some reason, he fell down the pecking order. But he is back in now. He is a great lad who has never let anyone down. Michael O’Neill will be able to look at his record and realise what a good addition he is to the squad.

“Rory has had a good season. I have always said about him that you don’t often get centre-halves who are as good in the air but also have his mobility. We can play a pressing game with that pace and athleticism.”

The deluge of rain that led to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round tie with Barnsley to be postponed has led to a late re-jig to the week’s schedule for the Bantams.

Unlike the Reds, who are in league action on Saturday, Bradford face a prolonged stint without a game and Parkinson has had to change things round in an attempt to keep his players active.

He added: “It wasn’t until about 4-4.30pm on Monday that I got a call about McArdle and we swung into action to get Saturday’s match against Blackpool off.

“It would have been ridiculous to play without so many players. We then planned what was going to happen in terms of team selection for Barnsley and the training going forward but that had to change again after that game was off as well.

“We don’t plan to do a behind closed doors friendly or anything like that.

“We just have to get the training schedule right.”

Discussions were still ongoing last night with regards a new date for the Barnsley game, although indications are it will be played next Tuesday.