Ian Baraclow believes a bright new crop of youngsters learning their trade at some of England’s top clubs could become the heartbeat of the Northern Ireland team’s future.
Versatile right back Conor Bradley, who was recently included in Liverpool’s U23 squad, made his debut as a late replacement in a 3-0 friendly win over Malta in Austria on Sunday.
The talented 17-year-old was one of two Anfield teenagers named in the senior panel for this month’s training camp, along with 19-year-old goalkeeper and club mate Liam Hughes.
Two-time Manchester United midfielder Ethan Galbraith, who recently turned 20, and 19-year-old Chelsea defender Sam McClelland are also part of this week’s Get-Together
Add in Leeds United’s Alfie McClemont (21), Arsenal’s Daniel Ballard (21) and highly rated St Johnstone midfielder Ali McCann (21) and there is plenty of young promise in the ranks.
McCann scored his first international goal in Sunday’s easy win over Malta, while Ballard helped Blackpool secure promotion to the championship through the play-offs.
“I think all the young players who have come on the Tour have been fit seamlessly,” Barraclo said when asked about the late cameo of Bradley’s assurances against the Maltese.
“It can be tough to make a debut at that age and I know if I was put in the same position at 17, I would probably have broken down,” he said.
“But it is testament to Connor, his mindset and the way he has been educated, whether from his family or the club he is in.
“Sam McClelland at Chelsea is another who has come into the team this week and has done really well. Again, he hasn’t looked out of place.
“You also have Ethan Galbraith, Alfie McClemont and Liam Hughes and these are all names we hope to talk about in the coming years as the next crop that makes us stand out.
“Of course, they have to go through that learning process and put them in situations that test them to see if they can handle it.
“But the boys on this journey have shown me that they will be there for years to come.”
Barraclow’s optimism about the future was echoed by caretaker captain Stuart Dallas, who will lead the team in a friendly with Ukraine in Dnipro on Thursday night.
The Leeds United midfielder said: “It is important that senior players keep their hands on the younger players and offer advice when needed.
“It can be a tough experience but the young players have done really well. The way he has implemented himself around the team hotel, on and off the pitch is testament to him.
“They have been brilliant and going forward these kids could be the future. I’m excited about it, but it’s also important that we don’t put too much pressure on them.”
While Bradley and McClemont, who spent the previous season on loan at Oldham, were up against Malta, Baraclaw is likely to take a more cautious approach against Ukraine.
Yellow and Blue, managed by former Milan striker Andrey Shevchenko, are ranked 24th in the world and are fine-tuning their preparations for the Euro 2020 final.
Ukraine open the tournament against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on 13 June, before also playing North Macedonia and Austria in Bucharest on 17 and 21 June.
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