First Team 19/06/2019

Cathcart: “It’s An Honour”

Having endured one of his most difficult seasons to-date during an injury-hit 2017/18, Craig Cathcart bounced back in some style to excel for both club and country in a 2018/19 campaign he’s already described as the best he’s ever had.

Fitting then that a stand-out season in which he played 50 times in domestic and international competition concluded last week with not only the award of a new four-year deal at Watford, but also the presentation of Northern Ireland’s Football Writers’ International Personality of the Year prize.

Speaking after collecting the trophy following Euro 2020 qualifying wins over Estonia and Belarus, the defender said his hard work and patience during the best part of a year on the sidelines had paid off.

“It’s an honour to receive this award, especially as if you look at the [Northern Ireland] squad now – we’ve got so many good players and we’ve done so well over the last few years – so to get a bit of recognition is really nice,” said Cathcart, who succeeded Jonny Evans in receiving the award.

“Coming back from the knee injury was tough. I injured it at the end of the previous season [2016/17], came back fit and did it again in the first game back. It was disappointing, but once we knew what the problem was I got the surgery and then was in Dublin for six weeks doing rehab.

“I wanted to get back as quick as I could and I managed to get back and play the last seven games of the season. I got a good summer and pre-season under my belt which I think made a big difference. I managed to stay fit all year, played a lot of games and it’s gone really well.”

After playing his part in a perfect start to Euro 2020 qualifying, with four wins from four leaving Michael O’Neill’s men top of their group, Cathcart is now looking forward to home ties against Luxembourg and Germany in September before October trips to Holland and Czech Republic. 

“If we’ve another successful season we won’t be far away from playing in the Euros. We go into the games in September and October and they will be great nights at Windsor Park again,” said the 30-year-old.

“We know the games are going to be tougher against high-quality teams, but we have to take confidence from the results that we’ve had so far and the way we have been playing.

“We might have to adapt a few things tactically because we’re not going to see as much of the ball. We know they will be different games, but we’ve seen before that anything can happen at Windsor Park and we’re confident that we can get results at home and we’re tough to play against even away from home too.”

First Team 18/06/2019

Pereyra: “I Know The Things I Can Bring To The Argentina Team”

Roberto Pereyra will be hoping to play his first Copa América game in four years when Argentina face Paraguay in a crunch Group B game on Thursday.

The Hornets' playmaker last featured in the South American showpiece tournament in 2015, coming on for the last half-an-hour of a group win over Jamaica, who had Adrian Mariappa playing at right-back. 

La Albiceleste reached the final that year, losing 4-1 to Chile on penalties, but Pereyra missed the following one in 2016 and has only recently managed to play his way back into coach Lionel Scaloni's plans on the back of his form in the Premier League last season.

He has been called up for Argentina's last eight matches, scoring in games against Iraq and Nicargua and was an unused substitute during the 2-0 defeat to Colombia in their opening group game on Sunday. With progression from the group at stake, Scaloni could well decide to recall the 28-year-old for the second all-important game in Belo Horizonte.

Scaloni is looking to reshape a squad who suffered a disappointing exit at last summer's World Cup, going out to France in the Round of 16.

“I watched a lot of the World Cup and the expectations that were placed on the Argentina side were quite high, so I can’t deny I was disappointed with the tournament we had,” said Pereyra in an interview with the matchday programme earlier this year. “But again, this is football so we have to leave the past behind and try to build up again. We need to start again from the beginning and hopefully things will get better very soon.”

The spot on the left-hand side of the Argentina team is a difficult one to nail down as Scaloni can play Angel Di Maria, Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul or Pereyra there. It's that kind of competition, together with some rotten luck with injury, which explains why Pereyra spent three years out of the national team. He had won eight caps in seven months after being given his debut by Gerardo Martino against Brazil in 2014.

“I know how difficult it’ll be to get back my place with the national team; I’m not naive,” he said. “But I’ve done it before and I know my quality and the things I can bring to the team. I’m more of a midfielder, and I believe in that position I can contribute good things. So I will do everything I can to make it possible. 

“I’m so proud to have done it [many] times already, and I’d really like the opportunity to increase that number.”