Football/Soccer

Bradley still in Northern Ireland squad as five senior stars return

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis (left) greets Conor Bradley after the teenager's competitive debut against Switzerland earlier this month.

THE return of five senior stars has boosted the Northern Ireland squad for trips to Switzerland and Bulgaria - but the inclusion of a certain teenager also continues to attract attention.

Castlederg 18-year-old Conor Bradley, who made his senior debut for Liverpool last week, remains in the panel after impressing on his first competitive senior international appearance off the bench against the Swiss.

Also set to be heading to Geneva for the World Cup qualifier on Saturday October 8 are Jonny and Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, and Josh Magennis, all of whom missed the goalless draw at Windsor Park last time out for various reasons.

Manager Ian Baraclough had suggested he would allow Bradley to go back to the U21 group but has been impressed by his performances on "big occasions":

"For this month I've taken the decision to keep him within the squad. We all probably watched the game when he made his debut for Liverpool as well, so he's adding to that experience.

"He's showing that he's capable of dealing with big occasions. He certainly did that in Belfast when he came on against Switzerland for that little cameo appearance.

"It was the way he dealt with that and the way he got fans off their seats, just running onto the pitch was great for him and certain forays into the final third, you could see his energy and what he's all about.

"The tackle that he put in in the far corner [on Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriquez] lifted the whole place and it's still right to have him in the squad.

"We've certainly got to be mindful of the amount of game-time he's going to receive and what's good for his future but at the minute, he's riding that crest of a wave and he's someone that can hopefully add to his minutes if he gets the chance."

Although the elder Evans also played in the Carabao Cup after a lengthy absence due to a foot injury, Baraclough urged caution about his inclusion in Geneva:

"Jonny at the moment is someone we're going to have to manage. Hopefully we comes through this week's games unscathed and builds on the game-time he's had with Leicester so far, but he's in a better place than what he was a few weeks ago.

"Having spoken to Brendan [Rodgers], it's a case where we have to be careful with him and manage his game-time. Ultimately Jonny will be the one to make a decision. He knows his body and what he can and can't do."

Baraclough is optimistic that his attacking options will remain strong, despite doubts over Magennis and a fellow striker:

"I've spoken to Josh and Conor Washington, they missed games at the weekend but they should be ready and raring to go towards this weekend. Hopefully we don't pick up any new knocks throughout the weekend's fixtures."

However, Liam Boyce remains absent, despite his fine form for Hearts - at the player's request, explained 'Bara':

"I've kept dialogue with Liam to make sure he knows the door is always open, but he has asked not to be involved in squads for the time being.

"He's had a good start to the season with Hearts and they are flying in the Scottish Premiership. He's playing a big part in that.

"But for him it's about getting that balance right for club football, family time at home, and going away for 10 days is a big ask on top of the workload they already have at the moment.

"I fully respect his decision; I'd like to have Liam Boyce as a choice to come into the squad but at the moment he's asked not to be involved in that. We'll continue to monitor that and he knows the door is always open for him."

Kyle Lafferty has been omitted, but could still play a part, says the boss: "I feel that some players are ahead him of the moment. I explained that to him.

"Of course he's disappointed but he wants to be a part of it and he's still got every chance of being a part of it, whether somebody doesn't make these games or next month to conclude the campaign. They all want to be involved in a World Cup campaign and Kyle's no different to anybody else.

"We are stronger and have more players to choose from now, I feel, which makes it a competitive squad."

Northern Ireland squad (for World Cup qualifiers v Switzerland and Bulgaria):

Goalkeepers: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Sheffield Wednesday, on loan from Burnley), Trevor Carson (Dundee United), Conor Hazard (Celtic).

Defenders: Jonny Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Shane Ferguson (Rotherham United), Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United), Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian), Daniel Ballard (Millwall, on loan from Arsenal), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Ciaron Brown (Cardiff City).

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Rangers), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Corry Evans (Sunderland), Paddy McNair (Middlesbrough), George Saville (Millwall), Gavin Whyte (Oxford United, on loan from Cardiff City), Jordan Thompson (Stoke City), Jordan Jones (Wigan Athletic), Alistair McCann (Preston North End), Conor Bradley (Liverpool).

Forwards: Josh Magennis (Hull City), Conor Washington (Charlton Athletic), Shayne Lavery (Blackpool), Dion Charles (Accrington Stanley).

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Football/Soccer