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'This is not the end of an era': Northern Ireland's senior stars can all go again for 2022 World Cup, insists Ian Baraclough



Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough.

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough.

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough.

Ian Baraclough has insisted it is not the end of an era for the Northern Ireland side, declaring that the team can contend for 2022 World Cup qualification and that he wants all of his current squad to stick around to give it a go.

Following Thursday night's 2-1 defeat after extra time to Slovakia in the Euro 2020 play-off final at Windsor Park, supporters have expressed fears that some of the more experienced players may consider retiring from international football.

Names mentioned include inspirational captain Steven Davis (35), Jonny Evans (32), Craig Cathcart (31), Michael McGovern (36), Niall McGinn (33) and Kyle Lafferty (33).

All have played significant roles in Northern Ireland's dramatic upturn in recent years and will forever be known as the 'Kings of Lyon' who brought so much joy to the nation during Euro 2016.

With the World Cup draw next month and qualifiers kicking off in March, manager Baraclough has told every player in his panel that he wants them to be available for the next campaign and feels they have a genuine shot at making it to the tournament in Qatar.

Ahead of tomorrow night's Nations League tie in Austria, Baraclough said: "This will hurt for some time, and we'll be hurting watching the Euros next summer, but we have to pick ourselves up.

"This group has shown resilience time and time again and there is no reason why we can't go into the World Cup campaign and put together a group of games that will put us in contention again."

Baraclough added: “There is not an end of an era feel. You won’t get that feel from me. I told the players they can all go again. For me, it’s not a case of writing anyone off.

“Those in the dressing room can all go again. I’ve never spoken or thought about anybody finishing their international career. Davo (Steven Davis) is a massive character and a driving force for everybody. He’s still playing at a very good level.

“Our two centre backs (Cathcart and Evans) are only in their early 30s, they could play for another six, seven, eight years.”

On post match emotions, Baraclough added: “It is tough going into a dressing room when it is so quiet and so distraught. One or two players were in tears. It is an emotional game. It is the worst I’ve felt after a game. You can have elation at times but you have to take some of the knocks, and we are going to have to take this one.

“I thought we couldn’t have given any more. I don’t think we left anything out on the pitch. Going into extra time I felt only one team would win it.”

Midfielder George Saville left the camp yesterday to go home due to personal reasons and will not play in Austria or on Wednesday versus Romania at Windsor Park. Baraclough paid tribute to Saville and striker Kyle Lafferty, whose sister Sonia passed away earlier this month.

“Maybe other people wouldn’t have turned up for their country. For the likes of Kyle and George, these are things that are far greater than football and it just shows you the character of those people,” added Baraclough.

“Stuart Dallas, we don’t know what he’s done to his arm but he was in pain and just kept going. Players picked up injuries and carried on playing until they couldn’t any longer.

“They should hold their heads up high. Those boys have not let the Northern Irish public down.”

Quizzed on whether Northern Ireland had wasted a golden opportunity, Baraclough said: “I wouldn’t describe it as wasted. It is an opportunity that we haven’t been able to take.

“It was one of those games that was close, it could have gone either way.”

Belfast Telegraph