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Northern Ireland: Joel Cooper tipped to 'grasp' his chance as Oxford winger handed first senior call-up in squad to face Romania and Norway

 

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Joel Cooper has been handed his first call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad.

Joel Cooper has been handed his first call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad.

Joel Cooper has been handed his first call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad.

Joel Cooper has been handed his first call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad.

Hot prospects: Joel Cooper

Hot prospects: Joel Cooper

Joel Cooper has been handed his first call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad.

It's a case of one Oxford United player out, one in for Northern Ireland as Ian Baraclough names his first squad as senior manager.

Joel Cooper has been handed his first senior call-up after his summer switch from Linfield, brought into the squad just as his new Oxford team-mate Mark Sykes has opted to switch his international allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.

Baraclough was naming his squad for his first games in charge; the UEFA Nations League double-header against Romania (September 4) and Norway (September 7).

Cooper, just a year after leaving Ballyclare Comrades for Glenavon in the Danske Bank Premiership, was brought with Paul Smyth to the Euro 2016 finals, in order to help the squad in training. It was a move that clearly outlined then boss Michael O'Neill's faith in the pair and his high hopes for their futures.

While Smyth earned a move to QPR and his senior Northern Ireland debut within two years, Cooper's career has seen a more stunted rise.

A 2018 move to Linfield helped reignite his spark, ultimately leading to his summer switch to League One and this call-up to Northern Ireland.

On announcing his squad, Baraclough tipped the 24-year-old to thrive on the international stage.

“Joel was in my first under 21 squad," he said. "I know having spoken to him that he was delighted to receive a call from me to congratulate him on his move to Oxford. I know from having spoken to the coaching staff at Oxford that he’s hit the ground running there and impressed them immensely – even better than the player they thought they were signing.

“He has turned up in great shape, scored over the weekend in friendlies. He was made up when I called him last night. He was delighted. He’s a character. Many of the other players know him after travelling with the group to the last Euros. He has the character and personality and he certainly has the ability to go and hold his own in this squad. I’m looking forward to getting to work with him. I think it’s (an opportunity) he will grasp with both hands.”

Returning to the squad are both Linfield striker Shayne Lavery, who had been left out of the panel for the originally-scheduled Euro 2020 play-offs in March, and Corry Evans, back from a fractured skull.

Making way are Livingston defender Ciaron Brown and Motherwell midfielder Liam Donnelly, who faces two months out with a knee injury.

Captain Steven Davis is set to match Pat Jennings' all-time record of 119 Northern Ireland caps while the returning Corry Evans is set for his 60th senior appearance for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland squad to face Romania and Norway

GOALKEEPERS: Michael McGovern, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Trevor Carson

DEFENDER: Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Stuart Dallas, Shane Ferguson, Conor McLaughlin, Jamal Lewis, Michael Smith, Tom Flanagan

MIDFIELDERS: Steven Davis, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans, Paddy McNair, George Saville, Gavin Whyte, Jordan Jones, Jordan Thompson, Matthew Kennedy, Joel Cooper

FORWARDS: Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce, Shayne Lavery

Belfast Telegraph