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Ian Baraclough hopes Northern Ireland U21s will be inspired by senior team

Ian Baraclough begins life as Northern Ireland Under-21s manager hoping the country's seniors can inspire his young players to a change of fortune.

Less than five weeks after leaving his post as Oldham's number two to fill the Irish Football Association's vacancy, ex-Sligo Rovers and Motherwell boss Baraclough is in Estonian capital Tallinn preparing Northern Ireland's youngsters for the start of their Euro 2019 qualifiers on Thursday night.

Under Jim Magilton's watch, the Northern Irish failed to win any of their 10 fixtures in their previous campaign and it is four years since the Under-21s last won a competitive game, underlining the size of the task awaiting Baraclough.

It was once a similar story for the seniors, but Michael O'Neill has overseen a remarkable upturn with a team that heads to Azerbaijan this week having lost just two of their previous 16 qualifiers, and Baraclough sees that as motivation for his own age group.

"At this level I think we're considered one of the minnows but there's not as big a pool of players as other countries," he told Press Association Sport.

"In the past we've not won games at this level but that was part of the challenge for me. I've said to the players, 'W hy not be the ones that break tradition and history, and be a potential golden generation'? They've got great role models in the seniors.

"We have that belief we can win games. You can get yourself on a roll and surprise yourself. I'm not going to say we're going to qualify or win the group but I think we can pick up points along the way."

Baraclough estimates he knew just half of his squad prior to arriving at the helm and has spent the past month reviewing footage of potential players.

With senior call-ups Shay McCartan and Ryan McLaughlin among those to have graduated, Baraclough's squad features several new faces, including 17-year-old striker David Parkhouse and Stoke's youth captain Jake Dunwoody.

Irish League pair Joel Cooper and Paul Smyth, who trained with O'Neill's team at the Euros in France last summer, are also involved and Baraclough has stressed to his squad that the senior manager will be keeping tabs on their progress.

"They've got to realise they're only one step away from Michael's senior team," he added.

"I think 15 of those (at the Euros) in France went through the Under-21 system at some stage so what I've tried to impress on those players is you are only one step away.

"Michael's got a side that is not going to stay together forever so he is looking to bring fresh faces in. Why not be one of them? Michael follows it closely as well,. He'll get the footage and there's already two or three that have been with the seniors."

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