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More young Northern Irish stars can follow Dallas and Whyte into professional game, says Baraclough

 

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Bright future: Ian Baraclough can see rising stars shining across the water Photo: Kelvin Boyes  / Press E

Bright future: Ian Baraclough can see rising stars shining across the water Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Bright future: Ian Baraclough can see rising stars shining across the water Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has tipped more of the country's rising stars to seal professional moves across the water.

A steady stream of players are being prepared for life in a professional environment at the IFA's Club NI programme, where former international Jim Magilton is overseeing their progress.

And the Irish League has also been a productive learning experience for the players, giving them an understanding of men's football and a winning mentality.

Even if a player doesn't move to England or Scotland in his early teenage years, his dream of making it in the professional game isn't over by a long shot.

Northern Ireland internationals Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte, who both shone at Crusaders, are prime examples of players who developed their skills in the domestic game and seized an opportunity to showcase their talent at a higher level.

Baraclough, during his successful time in charge of the Northern Ireland Under-21 side, watched 11 of his gifted group make their debuts for the senior side and he has an insight into how a young player can fulfil his potential.

Any Northern Ireland manager wants our best young talent to shine in the full-time game so they can return to the international stage and gain even more respect.

The 49-year-old said: "We have several young players who could move across the water to play at a good level.

"Players like Derry City defender Eoin Toal have a bright future and he can be a leader.

"I'm pleased that I have built relationships with managers and coaches here.

"The Under-21 squad featured Irish League players and they were battle hardened and ready. Players like Bobby Burns, Mark Sykes and Gavin Whyte have proven they can make the trip across the water and make an impact. They have the confidence and experience to deal with a change in environment."

But when it comes to earning a place in the senior side, the players will be shown no favours by their former Under-21 boss.

The challenge for all the international aces, regardless of their age or experience, is pinning down a regular place at their clubs.

In recent years that has been a real problem for Northern Ireland players and a lack of first-team minutes will be a continued concern for Baraclough.

The long break sparked by the Covid-19 crisis this year certainly hasn't helped either.

"If the young players are good enough they will be selected but they have to prove that week in, week out with their club," added Baraclough. "They must get into their first teams and be good enough to replace someone else in the squad.

"Nine of the players started at the weekend and we want more to be starting for their clubs. We will keep a close eye on that."

Baraclough's first match as boss will be a Nations League tie away to Romania on September 4 but much bigger than that will be the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 8 with a possible final on November 12 against the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia at Windsor Park.

Much of the coaching staff, including assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl and goalkeeping coach Steve Harper, will remain in their roles, while O'Neill's long-time assistant Austin MacPhee is also set to play a part under the new boss.

"Jimmy deserves the respect he commands and I cannot speak highly enough of him," added the former Sligo Rovers chief.

• Northern Ireland international Laura Rafferty has signed a new contract at Women's Super League club Brighton and Hove Albion.

Belfast Telegraph