Craig Cathcart’s dream of playing in a major championship is still alive after the Northern Ireland manager revealed the defender came off as a precaution last night.
Cathcart went down around the half-hour mark against Slovakia last night with a back problem and after treatment and briefly returning to his feet, it was decided he could no longer continue. Key striker Kyle Lafferty came off after 55 minutes, raising concern for Northern Ireland ahead of their opener against Poland on Sunday.
“They’re both fine. It was precautionary,” Michael O’Neill. “Cathcart got a bad challenge, I thought. Obviously it was let go, like many. Kyle just had a little bit of a tight calf from a kick. We had planned to take off Kyle on 60-65 minutes. He wanted to stay on but there was no sense in it, and the same with Craig. If it was the Poland game in that situation and we needed them, they wouldn’t have come off.”
Northern Ireland extended their record unbeaten run to 12 matches with a goalless draw against England’s Group B opponents and go into the championship as the form horse, but they were made to work for it.
“I felt that some of the challenges under normal circumstances would have been punished with a yellow card but weren’t,” said O’Neill. “I thought the referee was lenient in favour of the home side at times. That’s understandable.”
Cathcart only missed three games through injury last season and failed to start two others – at Preston in the Capital One Cup and away at Southampton. He finished third in the Player of the Season Award while his magnificent display at Arsenal in the FA Cup was among the contenders for the Individual Performance of the Season.