Belfast Telegraph

Barton keeps guessing game going after Northern Ireland debut

By Graham Luney

Will he or won’t he? Managers like to have as much control and influence over players as they can but all Nigel Worthington can do is wait and hope for the best.

Adam Barton, who was born in Blackburn and qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his grandfather, was thrown onto the international stage against Morocco.

But the 19-year-old Preston midfielder is keeping his options option as his heart is telling him he belongs in an England jersey.

Not surprisingly, Barton was remaining tight-lipped after the 1-1 draw — he’s clearly not ready to make his mind up just yet.

When he pulled out of the squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Italy and the Faroe Islands, it was clear he had a lot weighing on his mind.

After a few days with Northern Ireland team-mates this week and a Windsor Park bow, the talented teenager who has caught Liverpool’s eye may now tell Worthington to ‘count me in’.

The former Norwich City supremo knows that nothing can be taken for granted in football but the signs are encouraging.

Now the waiting game has commenced but Barton will not suffer any homesickness with English accents never far away.

Watford lad Lee Hodson plays for his local club but he has already donned a Northern Ireland Under-21 shirt and after making his senior debut on Tuesday night, he’s promised to fight for his adopted country.

Sheffield-born Jonny Gorman is already committed to the cause after making his competitive debut in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Slovenia in Maribor.

Another man from the city of steel, Aberdeen defender Rory McArdle has been a regular for the under-21 side and now has three senior caps to his name.

Southampton lad Josh McQuoid is banging in the goals for fun at Bournemouth and after honing his skills with the under-21 side his loyalties lie with Northern Ireland — not England.

The Green and White Army will be pleased to hear him declare: “I’m buzzing to play for my country.”

What Barton did say last night, however, is that his Windsor Park experience was ‘brilliant.’

“The friendly was a chance to see if I would like it and I did,” he said.

“It was brilliant — a great experience for me.

“The travelling was good because I got looked after and I didn’t have to worry about anything. Knowing that you are wanted over there is a great feeling.

“Unfortunately there wasn’t any of my family or friends there on the night, with my dad busy working and my mum not being able to make it.”

Northern Ireland has never been blessed with a significant pool of talent to select from — that’s why Worthington is happy to snap up any promising player with a family connection to this part of the world.

Manchester United starlet Jonny Evans is just one of the current crop of Northern Ireland players hoping that Barton signs up to the cause and he knows that the net for talent has to be cast far and wide.

“It’s up to Adam if he wants to come back,” said Evans. “This was only a friendly so he can keep his options open but he did really well and I’m sure he enjoyed the atmosphere as well.

“I think the boys just need to work hard and enjoy the experience of being with Northern Ireland. If you work hard you get your rewards in football and then the good results and good memories come.

“I’ve been there before as a young player coming through the ranks and you learn fast.

“You have to be patient when you are in squads and not getting a game but having good company around you keeps you motivated. We are a close group and that’s important. The new lads will see that quickly.

“It was a bit strange having new faces around the hotel but others have been there before and there is always a good spirit in the camp and we train well together.

“I think all the lads have done well, considering we have only been together for a few days and trained twice before the game.

“The manager now knows he can trust the young lads to come in and do a job.”

Hodson, who stayed on the pitch for the full game on Tuesday night, is now relishing another senior international showdown after getting a taste of the big time.

“I want to play more games for Northern Ireland so it’s up to me to keep working hard,” he said.

“It would be a big honour to represent Northern Ireland in the Euro qualifiers, but I’m still making progress in the Under-21s.”

McQuoid won the penalty which Rory Patterson slammed home and the 20-year-old has promised more fireworks.

“Everyone has been very supportive and welcoming,” he said. “They have given me a lot of advice and encouragement and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. It’s a huge honour for a player to play international football.”

Northern Ireland’s English invasion could not be better timed with the Irish FA determined to bring Fabio Capello’s side to Windsor Park for what could be another memorable night.

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