Conor McMenamin cleared to return to Northern Ireland squad

Northern Ireland v Cyprus – UEFA Nations League – Group 2 – Windsor Park
(Image credit: Niall Carson)

Ian Baraclough welcomed Conor McMenamin back into his Northern Ireland squad before revealing the video that led to Kyle Lafferty being sent home was believed to have been taken after a team-bonding dinner in Belfast last week.

Both McMenamin and Lafferty were withdrawn from the squad ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Kosovo amid separate social media controversies.

A video emerged last Wednesday appearing to show Lafferty using an alleged sectarian slur and, after the 35-year-old was sent home amid an investigation launched by his club Kilmarnock, an historical video showing McMenamin appearing to sing a pro-IRA slogan was also shared.

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That video is thought to have been captured when the Glentoran winger, 27, was still a teenager, with the former Cliftonville and Linfield player punished by his club at the time. In that context, on Monday he was cleared by an independent disciplinary panel to play in Tuesday’s match with Greece.

McMenamin said in an Irish Football Association statement: “The video in question was made a long time ago. I am sorry and I regret it. We all make mistakes.

“My international career has just started and I’m really enjoying playing for Northern Ireland.

“I am now fully focused on our final Nations League group game against Greece and hoping I can make a contribution and represent the team in a positive way.”

Conor McMenamin (right) in action for Northern Ireland away to Kosovo

Conor McMenamin (right) in action for Northern Ireland away to Kosovo (Valdrin Xhemaj/AP)

Lafferty remains out as he awaits the outcome of Kilmarnock’s investigation.

When asked if the incident involving Northern Ireland’s second-highest goal-scorer came after the squad went out for dinner on Tuesday night, Baraclough said: “I believe so.”

He added: “We all went out. We all went to the restaurant and we all came back. The players had a day off the next day. They are adults.

“They know they have got a responsibility and when they are on international duty they are still representing themselves, their clubs, their families and me. You can’t keep them cooped up in a hotel and you give them a certain amount of trust.

“You hope that is the right thing to do going forward as well. We are talking about a team bonding session and people being themselves and seeing them in their natural state and at times you do have to learn from it.

“It might be something that we look at further down the line. It has always served Northern Irish teams really well when they have had that bit of time to themselves, so for me it was something we weren’t expecting to wake up to those sorts of headlines and that type of news. I’m disappointed.”

Baraclough said McMenamin, who earned three caps after getting his first Northern Ireland call-up in June, had been “distraught” when first informed he was out of the squad at the weekend, but he is ready to play now back in the fold.

Ian Baraclough

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has sought to focus on on-pitch matters (Liam McBurney/PA).

“I think it’s one thing to give him the bad news, it’s another then saying you want him to travel, you think everything is going to be cleared by then hopefully, and he had no hesitation at all,” Baraclough said. “To be able to give him that news is obviously a better conversation.”

The issues have been a distraction for Northern Ireland during an important international window

Saturday’s win over Kosovo was their first in the Nations League in 15 attempts, but they are still not safe from relegation to League D with one game left to play.

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