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Ali McCann impresses Ian Baraclough with composed Northern Ireland displays

The national coach believes the St Johnstone midfielder may also have caught the eye of bigger clubs with his performances.

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Ali McCann, right, has impressed in his first two appearances for Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Ali McCann, right, has impressed in his first two appearances for Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Ali McCann, right, has impressed in his first two appearances for Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Ian Baraclough reckons Ali McCann may have caught the eye of some bigger clubs after the St Johnstone midfielder produced some impressive displays for Northern Ireland in the past fortnight.

McCann made his international debut against Austria last weekend and impressed sufficiently to keep his place for Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Romania.

Liam Boyce later said the 20-year-old looked like he was earning his 40th cap rather than his second, so composed was he at Windsor Park, and Baraclough said the performances would not have gone unnoticed elsewhere.

“Ali McCann has done so well in the last two games,” Baraclough said. “He can go back to his club now and look forward to a strong winter.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if teams are looking at him and I know St Johnstone will not be thanking me for saying that but he looks so at home at this level.”

McCann was not the only youngster to impress for Northern Ireland.

Matty Kennedy and Ethan Galbraith made their own debuts against Romania, while Dan Ballard played in both Nations League contests, featuring alongside Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart against Romania in a back three which Baraclough may turn to more often in the future.

“I think Daniel playing alongside Jonny and Craig in a three is exciting,” Baraclough said. “It’s not as if Craig and Jonny are going anywhere for the next few years.

“For me they can help the likes of Dan or Tom Flanagan. We’ve got several centre-halves who are desperate to come through. Dan’s come in, taken his chance and looks at home.

“For him, it’s a great learning curve alongside Jonny and Craig plus don’t forget Stuart Dallas there as well.”

Baraclough has been determined to focus on the young players coming through as he looks for positives from another international window that yielded no victories and saw hopes of reaching Euro 2020 ended.

“There’s a lot to be pleased about, a lot to look forward to and there’s a lot more to come from this group of players,” Baraclough said. “We’re evolving, slowly yes, but this is by no means the last dance for the older players.

“It’s important we use this Nations League as a platform to throw some of the younger ones in. They have gone on and stood up to it. We’ve now found we have a bigger pool of players than we thought. Players that can deal with (international football).”

After an intensive period, Baraclough joked that he planned to “sleep for the next week” but with the World Cup qualifying draw a little over two weeks away there will soon be a new focus.

And, despite suffering disappointment in Euro 2020 qualifying, he said there was every reason to believe Northern Ireland could make it to Qatar.

“There is a belief there,” he said. “On any given night we can give them (the two higher ranked teams in the group) as good a game as anybody.

“Yes, we’re going to be coming from Pot Three and we have to go and get a couple of top results against teams that are seeded higher than us, but that’s been in our nature for a long time.

“With this crop of players, we know what they can produce. They are ready for the fight and we’ll go into those games as underdogs as we normally always do. But we’ll raise our game.”

PA


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