Jonny Evans can continue to play international football for years to come and follow in the footsteps of legendary centurions Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes, according to Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough.
Defender Hughes only retired aged 39 in 2019 after earning 112 caps while midfielder Davis is still going strong at 37 and earned his 133rd cap in Friday night’s friendly in Luxembourg.
Evans also featured in the 3-1 win over Luxembourg, making his country the 94th international spot. The Leicester City centre-back was a surprise in the squad at the start of the week after returning from a hamstring injury for his club last weekend.
It was Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers who asked Baraclough if the 34-year-old could join and he put in a typically assured performance alongside Craig Cathcart and Tom Flanagan at full-back before being substituted , as expected, in the 63rd minute.
The former Manchester United star will not feature against Hungary at Windsor Park on Tuesday night but having him for the Luxembourg game and the training leading up to it has given Baraclough and the players a boost.
Evans will now focus on his club for the rest of the season, starting with a Premier League game against United next weekend, before being involved with Northern Ireland again for four League games. Nations in June.
He spoke of his desire to reach 100 caps and would have been closer to the milestone had he not missed some World Cup qualifiers last campaign through injury. Baraclough is certain Evans will make it happen, however, and with a busy schedule this year, it could happen as early as September.
“Jonny is desperate to play as many games as possible for Northern Ireland and desperate to make 100 caps,” Baraclough said.
“It hurt him to see the guys going through the World Cup campaign. He loved being back when he came in November. He misses being with the players and putting on the green shirt.
“Between him, Brendan (Rodgers) and Leicester City, they made the decision to have hamstring surgery due to the threat of him breaking down again.
“They couldn’t take that risk, and Jonny didn’t want to take that risk. He’s someone who takes care of himself, he’s someone who could be in the role of Davo (Steven Davis) and play until he’s 38, no problem. He would be like Aaron Hughes, who played for Northern Ireland until he was almost 40, he could be someone like that.
While some senior players may choose to take a break in June after testing seasons with their clubs, Evans is looking forward to Nations League fixtures.
Baraclough said: “We had discussions. He doesn’t want to take a break this summer, because he’s getting back in shape with us for all four games. We obviously take care of him, then he goes into pre-season with Leicester; fit, strong, ready for the new season. That’s the plan.”