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Ian Baraclough facing player availability headache for Northern Ireland’s end-of-season tour


Ian Baraclough

Ian Baraclough

Ian Baraclough

If Ian Baraclough didn’t have bad luck, I suppose he wouldn’t have any luck at all.

The Northern Ireland manager, ahead of next week’s international window, has already been forced to switch an end-of-season training camp and match from Covid-19-hit Turkey to Austria and bring in Malta as replacement opponents.

Now, as he goes in search of his first senior international victory in regulation time since taking up the role last summer, Baraclough has personnel issues with this upcoming trip.

Usually just a week before a match or days leading into a training camp, an international manager would have been able to publicly release his squad.

The problem is, there are still question marks over the availability of his players.

He’s still unsure over who will actually be in attendance.

Star defender Jonny Evans looks definitely out with a heel injury which only allowed him to play half an hour of Leicester’s FA Cup victory over Chelsea last Saturday, and which rules him out of today’s final Premier League programme.

Skipper Steven Davis, who has been playing regularly for title-winning Rangers since last August, needs a rest, while Stuart Dallas is likely to travel but has also endured a hectic schedule with Leeds United in the Premier League.

Baraclough will need to assess how young midfielder Ali McCann recovers from his exploits in helping St Johnstone win the Scottish Cup yesterday.

Daniel Ballard would have been the ideal replacement for Evans but he is now ruled out of the training camp and first match against Malta on Monday, May 31 as the 21-year-old will be involved with Blackpool in the League One Play-Off Final the previous day. He may be in a position to come in for the Ukraine game on June 3.

However, Baraclough will also be concerned about his players currently out of contract and who feel the risk of taking part in a training camp followed by games against Malta and Ukraine is too great.

Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Ryan McLaughlin and Paul Smyth have been released by their respective teams and are searching for new clubs. Conor McLaughlin, who missed Sunderland’s Play-Off Semi-Final through injury, is now out of contract but it is believed he could still remain at the Black Cats next season. Niall McGinn, it is understood, is in a similar position with Aberdeen.

Kyle Lafferty’s contract at Kilmarnock finishes tomorrow night after their Play-Off match and a new deal may largely be dependent on whether Killie remain in the Scottish Premiership.

In previous years when internationals have been out of contract, they haven’t been insured to play international football as their clubs would look after that particular cover.

We’ve had players sitting in the stands before — most notably during the friendly defeat to Germany in 2005.

However, the Irish FA confirmed to Sunday Life Sport yesterday that they will provide insurance for those players out of contract.

A spokesperson said: “The Irish FA will cover unattached players during the end-of-season tour.”

That, though, doesn’t mean the players will commit to the tour for fear of injury which may have an adverse affect on them trying to secure a contract with a new club.

Sunderland lost on aggregate to Lincoln in yesterday’s League One Play-Off Semi-Final so this may bring winger Jordan Jones back into the international fold, along with Tom Flanagan and Carl Winchester.

Baraclough has been given an easier test with Malta jumping in to fulfil the fixture after the IFA were forced to cancel the friendly with Euro finalists Turkey. But depending on the team he is able to put out, his first victory as Northern Ireland boss is by no means assured.

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