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Conor Hazard: I need to find regular club football before making step up to Northern Ireland senior squad

 

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Conor Hazard is keen to nail down regular action

Conor Hazard is keen to nail down regular action

William Cherry/Presseye

Conor Hazard is keen to nail down regular action

Northern Ireland Under-21 goalkeeper Conor Hazard has admitted he needs to be playing regular first-team football to make a step up to the senior side.

Celtic star Hazard has excelled at Under-21 level and is highly rated by current Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough, who worked with him at under-age level, but he is currently down the pecking order at Parkhead behind Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain between the sticks.

Since joining the Bhoys in 2014, Hazard has had loan spells at Falkirk, Partick Thistle and Dundee, where he was brilliant last season until the coronavirus pandemic struck and brought football to an abrupt halt.

It is understood there is interest in the Downpatrick man, who has won one cap for Northern Ireland at full international level against Costa Rica in a friendly in 2018, with reports last month that English League One side Accrington Stanley are keen.

Asked about his hopes of making it into Baraclough's plans for the future, 22-year-old Hazard said: "I need to play games for me to be even considered to go to that level. I need to be playing week in, week out to get that exposure to first-team football.

"I had a great spell out on loan last season which I was delighted with but obviously with Covid that got cut short. I was looking to progress on that this year. For Ian to even consider me to be in that senior group, I need to be playing and performing.

"I've had quite a lot of places to go but from the club's perspective with Covid and the lack of numbers it just wasn't the right time to let me go out."

Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Hungarian side Ferencvaros in August, there was some doom and gloom among Celtic supporters but impressive league performances, including a 5-0 win at Ross County at the weekend, has Neil Lennon's side back on track as they chase an unprecedented 10 Championships in a row.

"It was very disappointing to go out of the Champions League. It wasn't necessarily a wake-up call but we know we are going to have to perform week in, week out to deliver what we want in what could be an unbelievable season," said Hazard. "What an achievement it would be. Everyone will be out to get us so we have to perform every week to get the results we need."

On Lennon's influence at the club, Hazard stated: "The manager is brilliant. He is very good with the boys. He has a professional demeanour and drives the team on. He has great authority and the standard has been good. He drives a very high standard in training and matches."

Belfast Telegraph