Football/Soccer

Leeds 'keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell loyal to Northern Ireland not England

Northern Ireland's Bailey Peacock-Farrell ahead of the Uefa Nations League game against Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday.
Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

LOYAL. It’s a word that will resonate with the Northern Ireland support - and they’ll be doubly delighted about who Bailey Peacock-Farrell has turned down.

The Leeds United number one revealed that he’d been contacted recently by his native England but has decided to repay the faith shown in him by NI boss Michael O’Neill.

The Darlington-born lad will tie himself to Northern Ireland if he plays in their first fixture in the new Uefa Nations League on Saturday, at home to Bosnia and Herzegovina in League B’s Group 3.

Even if he doesn’t feature against the Balkan side, it doesn’t seem that he’ll balk at the chance to become a regular player at Windsor Park.

Asked if he’d thought about playing for England, the 21-year-old replied: "The conversations have already happened.

"I've had several chats with the England goalkeeping coaches. One rang me the other week in fact, but I'm loyal to Northern Ireland.

"They got in really early and made me feel wanted. At that time when I met Michael [O'Neill] I was a nobody, I was just a young ’keeper.

"But for him to take that time out of his day to come and chat to me, and tell me about Northern Ireland, the pathway and what we're planning on doing as a country, for me that was special.

"I don't think you'd get that from any other international manager. That togetherness is one of the main things that Michael brings...those family-orientated values. It's a great honour to have that opportunity to be involved with the team.”

‘The team’ is a key phrase there. Young Bailey – come on, this must be his nickname – doesn’t want to settle for being on the, erm, bench.

The 6'4" shot-stopper only had his first NI action in late March, keeping a clean sheet against Iceland in the U21s competition – the same month as his first start for Leeds.

Yet he admitted: "My aim is to be a regular in the set-up. I'm only 21 so I have a lot of time, but that is my aim and I am setting the bar high to play as many games as possible. To do that would be a great achievement.”

New Leeds boss, the legendary Marcelo Bielsa, has retained him as his first choice ’keeper, and the youngster says their relationship is “positive, it’s really good.

“He’s shown that trust, he watched all the [Leeds] games [from last season] and decided to go ahead with me. Obviously I had to prove myself again in pre-season and show him that he made the right choice. That trust is a big deal.”

However, Peacock-Farrell doesn’t believe that his current status with the Elland Road outfit guarantees him a starting slot this weekend:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a natural transition, purely because we’ve got two other really good goalkeepers here. What I do at club level obviously may sway things but with Michael [McGovern] and Trevor [Carson] doing really well, Michael’s been the number one for a long time now…

“To say being number one at Leeds makes me number one here – you can’t really go along those lines. You’ve just got to come away with the lads and train as hard as you can and then it’s up to the manager if he decides to go with me or Trev or Mike.”

Bailey replaced Carson at half-time in the summer friendly in Panama, both of them keeping clean sheets that day, and the Leeds custodian acknowledges that any game-time on Saturday would be wonderful for him – and his family:

“It would mean a great deal. If I can manage to be the number one at such a young age, a goalkeeper’s career can be 15, 20 years. If I can maximise that as number one then I’ve got a long future ahead of me and a lot of games – and it would be a great privilege to make that [position] mine.

“To join the list [of NI goalkeepers] – and then obviously the current list that we’ve got now - I think it’s great, and if I can manage to do that and be a part of that it would mean a great deal for me.

"My grandfather [Jim Farrell] is from Enniskillen. I think for him and my family as a whole, they will all be overwhelmed and proud to see me playing at International level.

"Certainly my grand-dad, who has that connection, will feel it a little bit more. It's a massive achievement. I know he's very proud and he will be watching the games”.

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