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Northern Ireland coach Sammy McIlroy has vowed to do all he can to persuade Neil Lennon from retiring from international football.

The Celtic midfielder withdrew from last night’s friendly international match with Cyprus after receiving a death threat from a loyalist parammilitary organisation.

Last year Lennon was verbally abused a minority of supporters believed to be angered by the fact that he plays for Celltic a predominantly catholic club.

The former Leicester player, who had been named captain of the side for last night’s match, was distraught at the latest development.

“After close consultation with the footballing authorities and the police service of Northern Ireland Iwill not be participating in this evening’s (Wednesday’s) international game,” he said.

“I am very disappointed that my desire to play for my country, on my first opportunity to captain my team, has been taken away from me.”

The death threat was received by the BBC in the afternoon and relayed to the police.

McIlroy remains hopeful of keeping Lennon in the international set-up.

“We will do our utmost to get Neil back. I need all the experienced players I can get,” said McIlroy.

“But obviously it is up to Neil. This is not the first time he has been under scrutiny like this. The boy is very sad, I am very sad. He was looking forward to playing. It was great to have him back after a knee operation.

“His first thoughts were to phone his parents, which he did and I told him to get back to me.

“The police invited me down to the room and Neil informed me he couldn’t play because his parents wished him not to, which is understandable.

“Neil then went with his father to the family home. He didn’t say anything about his future plans.”

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