Sunderland’s Dan Ballard has encountered a minor setback in his fitness while representing Northern Ireland on the international stage, as confirmed by manager Michael O’Neill.
During Northern Ireland’s 3-0 victory over San Marino, Ballard was entrusted with the captain’s armband by Jonny Evans, a Manchester United player and a former loanee at Black Cats. The two defenders partnered in the central defense for the match, with Evans winning his 104th cap at the age of 35 and Ballard, at 24, earning his 15th international cap. The match featured Ballard playing the full 90 minutes alongside his Sunderland teammate Trai Hume and former Sunderland player Paddy McNair, who now plays for Middlesbrough.
However, O’Neill revealed that Ballard woke up with tightness in his thigh after the game, and the Northern Ireland staff is closely monitoring the situation. O’Neill explained, “He [Ballard] woke up with a tightness in his thigh which we have just had to manage over the last 48 hours. It’s not like he was playing through something because obviously, we could have taken him off, but he didn’t alert us to anything. It is just something that has come on post-game.”
O’Neill further mentioned that the squad has sufficient cover for Ballard’s absence, with players like Eoin Toal, Trai Hume, and Shea Charles capable of stepping in if needed. Additional call-ups may not be necessary, but they may consider bringing in a player from the Under-21 squad if Daniel Ballard’s fitness doesn’t improve.