Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United and Leeds stars can make permanent step up to Northern Ireland senior side, says Under 21 boss

 

Rising stars: Northern Ireland’s Ethan Galbraith (left) and Alfie McCalmont
Rising stars: Northern Ireland’s Ethan Galbraith (left) and Alfie McCalmont

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland under-21 boss Ian Baraclough believes teenage sensations Ethan Galbraith and Alfie McCalmont should be seeking to experience more senior football at international level sooner rather than later.

Manchester United's Galbraith (18) and Leeds ace McCalmont (19) came off the bench last Thursday for Michael O'Neill's side in the second half to make their first team debuts in the 1-0 friendly win over Luxembourg at Windsor Park. One night later they were playing for the Under-21 side in a 0-0 draw with Malta at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

The likelihood is that the dynamic midfield duo are going to play more for Baraclough than O'Neill in the next couple of months, but the Under-21 supremo says their target ought to be set on returning to the senior ranks.

He feels they have the ability to do it.

"They are two that definitely should be setting their sights on getting into the senior squad," said Baraclough.

"They are at two great clubs, they are playing regularly at under-23 level and Alfie has even stepped up to the senior side at Leeds this season.

"He is probably two years ahead of time in his development. He has been given a chance by Marcelo Biesla (Leeds manager) which is great.

"Ethan is playing two years above himself at Manchester United and I believe both have the quality to step up into the seniors."

Linfield's Shayne Lavery (20) was another young gun to play versus Luxembourg after the break. Baraclough added Lavery's introduction should give promising Irish League kids a boost.

"I think Irish League players who produce the goods could step up into the senior squad. Shayne Lavery has performed well in the early part of his career at Linfield and been rewarded for that form which shows Michael is looking at all avenues," said the former Motherwell boss.

When youngsters feature for O'Neill it invariably weakens Baraclough's hand when selecting his side. The 48-year-old is not one to complain however. He sees the bigger picture though that doesn't stop his desire to put wins on the board.

In the last Euro qualifying campaign Baraclough's side almost reached the finals, finishing second in their group to Spain, who went on to win the tournament.

Northern Ireland may have started their bid to make the 2021 finals with a disappointing draw at home to Malta, but tonight Baraclough is planning to get back on track away to Finland.

Since taking charge Baraclough has made the under-21 team a force on the road. They even beat Spain on their travels.

"In the last campaign we went to Estonia and got a last minute winner which gave us a really good start," said Baraclough.

"That gave us momentum and created a belief in the group and that we weren't also rans and wouldn't lie down for anyone.

"It also gave the players a positive mindset that we were going out to win games so if we could get a result against Finland it would be a big boost to our campaign."

While Baraclough was disappointed with Northern Ireland's inability to finish the numerous chances they created against Malta he was content with the team's general play. One young man who impressed was Birmingham's Caolan Boyd-Munce (19), sure to be a key figure for the Under-21s in this campaign.

"Caolan made a real impact on me when I took him to Spain in March and I saw he was a really good footballer," said Baraclough.

"He's a person you can speak to as a man and you can hold a conversation with him. He's got a good understanding of football and he's improving having been in the first team at Birmingham already.

"One of the first things I say to the lads is if you are playing first team football that is developing them as a person and a player so the more that can do that the better."

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