SAMMY McIlroy has hinted that Keith Gillespie could still have a part to play in Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign following the winger's dramatic return to Rovers' first team.

The former Manchester United ace thought he had played his last match for Rovers after manager Graeme Souness told him he could leave Ewood on a free transfer before Christmas.

However, Souness has since had a change of heart and Gillespie's appearance in Rovers' 1-0 win over West Brom at the weekend was his first start at Ewood since the 5-0 thrashing of Sheffield United last April.

Now, McIlroy has indicated to the player that he's in consideration for the North's World Cup Qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria later this month -- seven months after his last appearance against Yugoslavia last August.

And, if he gets the nod, then it will complete an amazing comeback for the 26-year-old after spending most of the season in limbo.

"I spoke to Sammy before the game against Norway last week and he told me that he wanted me to get fit for the two qualifying games later this month," said Gillespie.

"But I never doubted I wouldn't get back into the squad so I'll just have to wait and see.

"It's difficult for a manager to make judgements when you're not playing regular first team football.

"But, now I'm back in favour, it's up to me to prove I'm ready.

"I haven't shown that much yet but I know there's an awful lot more to come.

"My fitness is getting better with every game and fortunately I'm playing in a winning team.

"There was a point when I thought I'd never kick a ball for Blackburn again so I was as surprised as anyone when the manager called me and said he wanted to give me a second chance.

"But, now I've got my place in the team, it's a case of knuckling down and trying to keep it."

Souness is pleased with the way Gillespie has responded since he has been given his second chance.

And he believes the fans will start to see the best of the player once he regains full match fitness.

"He's still not match fit -- he needs another few games before we can really make a judgement," said Souness.

"But we know what Keith is capable of and we are very happy with his work defensively."

Meanwhile, Souness was delighted with Rovers' victory over West Brom at the weekend -- a result which closed the gap on second-placed Bolton to two points.

"We're delighted with the points," said Souness.

"Sometimes you have to grind results out and that's what we did.

"Their gameplan was to sit in and frustrate us, hopefully, getting the crowd against us.

"But the fans stayed with us and we eventually got the breakthrough."

Rovers are offering fans the chance to travel free to next week's crunch promotion clash with Birmingham at St Andrews in a bid to boost numbers for one of the biggest games of the season.

"We're very conscious that this is an expensive time of the year and I know a lot of fans have got a possible trip to Arsenal in their minds," said chief executive John Williams.

"So we've decided to offer free coach travel in a bid to get as many people as possible down to Birmingham to support the team."

Newcastle have again been linked with a move for Damien Duff but Rovers insist the player is not for sale.