Belfast Telegraph

More of Northern Ireland's U21 players can follow Peacock-Farrell to senior side: Baraclough

By Steven Beacom

Ian Baraclough has urged the Northern Ireland Under-21 players to follow the example of Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell and show they belong in Michael O'Neill's squad.

Peacock-Farrell made his competitive senior debut in Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Nations League just six months after making his first appearance for Baraclough's Under-21s in a scoreless draw with Iceland.

In that time, the 21-year-old has established himself as the No.1 with Leeds.

Oxford United's Gavin Whyte also played in that match in March against Iceland and is hoping to win his first senior cap tonight against Israel.

While O'Neill's men are involved in a friendly at Windsor Park, Baraclough's boys face the daunting task of taking on Spain in Albacete in a European Under-21 Championship qualifier.

Spain top the group with 21 points from seven games - a draw tonight will secure their place in next year's finals as group winners.

Northern Ireland are fourth in the table but on the same points as third-placed Iceland and just one behind Slovakia with three fixtures remaining.

If Baraclough's side finish as one of the best four runners-up in the nine groups then they will be in the play-offs, so there is plenty at stake, not least for the players to show they merit the promotion that Peacock-Farrell has achieved.

"We have some very good goalkeepers coming through. Michael has taken Bailey who has now made his senior debut. He did unbelievably well for Leeds at the tail end of last season and so far this season has been excellent," said Baraclough.

"He is beginning to come of age for a top team like Leeds, who are going well in the Championship, and for a demanding manager like Marcelo Bielsa to be putting him in week in, week out as well, that's fantastic.

"The likes of Conor Mitchell and Conor Hazard are also very good keepers. Conor Mitchell has played most of our games, six out of the seven qualifiers, and Connor Hazard has been with the seniors already as well.

"That's the aim for all of the lads, to do well enough for the Under-21s and at club level like Bailey to get the call from Michael. These boys are getting recognition for hard work.

"Look at Gavin Whyte. I brought Gavin into my first squad and he pulled out with an injury after one day of training.

"Then he had a great season for Crusaders and started to get noticed. He got back into my squad and did well against Spain and Iceland, and Michael took him to Costa Rica and Panama and got his move to Oxford.

"It's the same with Bobby Burns, who at 19 has gone to a good club like Hearts, and Paul Smyth had a fantastic introduction to life as a senior international, scoring the winner against South Korea in March."

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