Sammy McIlroy had no choice but to omit Neil Lennon from the Northern Ireland squad to face Spain.
Northern Ireland coach Sammy McIlroy has respected Celtic FC midfield player Neil Lennon's decision to retire from international football after he received a death threat by omitting the player from the squad to face Spain and the Ukraine in the forthcoming Group 6 EURO 2004™ qualifiers.
Family in danger
Lennon was stunned hours before he was due to captain the Irish team in their scoreless draw in a friendly with Cyprus in August when a warning was phoned to BBC Belfast claiming the player and his family would be in danger if he turned out at Windsor Park.
Hope not lost
It was not the first time the player had been singled out for sectarian abuse and it encouraged him to bring his international career to an early end. The Irish Football Association (IFA) still hold out the hope he may return, and the player himself has subsequently hinted he could represent his country again, but he will not face Spain in Albacete on 12 October or Ukraine in Belfast four days later.
With Lennon on the sidelines, McIlroy is set to give the captain's armband to West Ham United FC's Steve Lomas, who is available after a lengthy injury absence. The player last appeared in a friendly encounter with Liechtenstein in March, when he was sent off.
In a bid to solve his team's attacking frailties, McIlroy has selected two in-form strikers, Paul McVeigh from English first division side Norwich City FC and Andy Kirk of Scottish Premier League team Heart of Midlothian FC. Both will come into contention alongside David Healy of Preston North End FC.
McIlroy recalls four players, defenders Gerry Taggart, who has been unavailable through injury since February 2001, and Aaron Hughes plus midfield players Michael Hughes and Philip Mulryne. Only Peter Kennedy, of Wigan Athletic FC, misses out from the team that started against Cyprus
Northern Ireland squad
Taylor, Carroll, Griffin, Murdock, Williams, McCartney, A Hughes, Taggart, M Hughes, Johnson, Horlock, Gillespie, Lomas, Mulryne, Healy, Quinn, McVeigh, Kirk.