Football/Soccer

NI boss Baraclough happy to see Conor Bradley keep on growing

Conor Bradley (right) during his competitive senior debut for Liverpool in the Carabao Cup away to Norwich City.

Conor Bradley won’t get big-headed, believes Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough, even though he can see the youngster growing from month to month, literally and metaphorically.

The Castlederg teenager enjoyed a super September, making his competitive debuts for club and country, or country and then club, to be precise.

The 18-year-old caught the eye in an entertaining cameo off the bench in the home World Cup qualifier against Switzerland on September 8, notably crunching into a tackle on visiting left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp then handed the 18-year-old a start in the Carabao Cup game away to Norwich City on September 21 and Bradley played his part in a 3-0 victory for the Reds.

Bradley has received plenty of praise, but Baraclough says he has no concerns about that going to his head, nor was he bothered about the Tyrone lad conceding penalty in the first half of that Norwich match:

“No, I’ve absolutely no worries about him. Everybody makes mistakes. I gave away penalties when I was in my 30s. Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced it’s about how you deal with it, how you move on from that.

“You could see the disappointment on his face, the disbelief. He’ll look back at it and think, could he have dealt with it slightly better? Could he have been in a better position to negate the threat in behind in the first place?

“He moved on and quickly got rid of that. I thought he was great during the game, it was brilliant to watch him. To see him growing visibly during the game was superb.”

Baraclough has also seen the player’s physical development since involving him in the pre-Euros camp, giving him a short substitute appearance in the 3-0 friendly win over Malta in Austria, and is pleased to be helping him along:

“I think we are playing a part, we’re giving him a pathway, we’re giving him chances, certainly with the senior group in the summer.

“We’re bringing him on and he was a different player in September. He seemed like he had grown a couple of inches, he seemed stronger, more confident, he was great around the group.

“I spoke to Jurgen in the build-up to that September camp and clearly he’s seen things in Conor to give him his debut and I have no issues with him.

“We all saw how confident he was in the game and how he dealt with situations which with other people, they might have played on their minds. It’s all part of his education and we’re playing our little part.”

Baraclough had indicated that Bradley might drop back down to the U21 panel but he has been retained in the senior squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers, away to both Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Intriguingly, Bradley was listed as a midfielder on the panel sent out by the Irish FA.

Baraclough laughed off the suggestion that Bradley might be deployed further forward on the international stage, as his club colleague Trent Alexander-Arnold was by England boss Gareth Southgate, but agreed that might be a future role for the teenager:

“I sent the list, I don’t know how that’s portrayed to you. He can play midfield, he can play a little bit higher up. He has the skill-set to be a conventional full-back or a wing-back.

“Jurgen thinks - and I agree, who am I not to agree with him actually? - that Conor could play in a midfield role as he gets older. He’s got a great understanding of football and different areas, that’s a great string to his bow.”

Baraclough has full belief in another versatile Tyrone man, Leeds United’s Stuart Dallas, who is a leading contender for the right back/ wing-back berth after missing last month’s matches against Switzerland and Lithuania for personal reasons.

The Cookstown man’s club form hasn’t been as good this season, but Baraclough was philosophical about that:

 “All players go through peaks and troughs in their careers and Stuart has had to deal with many ups and downs, whether it is as a Northern Irish player in the Irish League or when he first came over to England, going out on loan to Northampton.

“The journey he’s been on, it’s been well documented. We’ve spoken about it so many times. He has the strength of character to get through tough periods.

“It will be great once he joins up with the group again and gets amongst his mates. Whenever he has been called upon for Northern Ireland, he’s not been found wanting, so I have no doubts about him.”

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Football/Soccer