Michael O'Neill hoping Northern Ireland young guns flourish
Senior boss Michael O'Neill hopes some of Northern Ireland's Under-21 players can emerge during their Euro 2019 qualification campaign as they look to build on their first competitive win in four years.
After failing to record a victory in the previous qualifiers, new manager Ian Baraclough enjoyed a dream start when he guided the under-21s to a 2-1 success over Estonia in June.
Sheffield United teenager David Parkhouse, just 17, scored one and won a penalty having been promoted to that level by Baraclough, while the exciting Paul Smyth recently secured a switch from Linfield to QPR.
O'Neill's squad includes several key figures who are all in their 30s and ahead of the under-21s' double header against Albania and Slovakia, the senior manager is keen to see those from Baraclough's age group blossom to increase his options at the next level.
"Too often our under-21s' results have been just defeat after defeat without any real signs of development as a team," O'Neill admitted.
"We've a load of lads who aren't playing, they're not first-team players yet so it's a big jump. There's very little we can do about that. We do cherish all of those players, (but) we need them to come through in some form.
"The first time I went and watched the under-21s was over five years ago in Macedonia. They were beaten 1-0, Stephen Robinson was in charge and that team didn't win a game of any note, but nine of those starting players have come through to play at senior international level and we haven't had that return in terms of players coming through subsequently.
"We do need some of those players to establish themselves more at their clubs to give us an option. We're constantly hoping that we've got young players playing and it's just not the case.
"It's a big challenge for Ian but I think he's done very well in the short space of time he's been in and we just hope we can develop more players to give us more options."
Baraclough will hope to follow up his victorious start with another triumph over the Albanians at Mourneview Park on Thursday night.
"It was a good start for Ian Baraclough which I think was important," O'Neill added.
"He plays Albania this week and I said to him he's a win away from possibly becoming our greatest ever under-21 manager so that's an accolade that he will take gladly!"