Belfast Telegraph

Quintet of Irish League stars named in Northern Ireland Under-21 squad

By Graham Luney

Irish League players Bobby Burns, Mark Sykes, Ciaron Harkin, Gavin Whyte and Jamie McGonigle have been included in the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad for European qualifiers against Spain and Iceland.

The Under-21s take on Spain at Shamrock Park in Portadown (7.45pm) on Thursday, March 22 and Iceland at the Coleraine Showgrounds (7.30pm) on Monday, March 26.

Former Linfield striker Paul Smyth, who has been a regular starter for QPR in the Championship, has been retained as his firepower could be key to qualification hopes.

Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who has been in training squads with the senior side, is added to the panel along with Stevenage midfielder Mark McKee, who has played for the U17s and U19s.

Ian Baraclough's side lie second in Group Two, two points behind leaders Spain.

Nine group winners will qualify for the finals in Italy and San Marino next year, while the four best runners-up will qualify for play-offs this autumn. And the two winners of the play-offs will in turn qualify for the final tournament alongside hosts Italy.

Baraclough said: "I'm pleased to see more of our players making senior appearances for their respective clubs or going on loan and this is increasing the competition for places and raising the bar for this team. It's becoming a tough task when it comes to selecting the squad. We need to be at our best for these two games."

U21 squad: Conor Mitchell (Burnley), Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds), Cameron Dummigan (Oldham), Conor McDermott (Derry City), Josh Doherty (Crawley), Bobby Burns (Glenavon), Liam Donnelly (Hartlepool), Ryan Johnson (Nuneaton Town, on loan from Stevenage), Ben Hall (Notts County), Chris Paul (QPR), Mark McKee (Stevenage), Dale Gorman (Stevenage), Jordan Thompson (Livingston, on loan from Rangers), Kyle McClean (St Johnstone), Mark Sykes (Glenavon), Ciaron Harkin (Coleraine), Jamie McDonagh (Derry City), Gavin Whyte (Crusaders), Paul Smyth (QPR), Jamie McGonigle (Coleraine), Shayne Lavery (Everton), Ben Kennedy (Stevenage).

• Northern Ireland international Paul Paton has joined Plymouth after being released by St Johnstone in January.

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