Reporter notebook: O'Neill's young Northern Ireland side on the rise


Northern Ireland finished their unsuccessful Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with an encouraging win over Denmark. A draw with Romania and a win in Scotland during this March international break is another example of how Michael O’Neill’s young side are on the rise…

O’Neill is proving yet again what a good manager he is. After a disappointing start to the homecoming, we are now beginning to see his team emerge.

The performances against Denmark and Scotland were everything Northern Ireland fans associate with their side. It was disciplined, high energy and aggressive football. Yes, they had to soak up a lot of pressure at times but for a young team to come through it was impressive and they had pace on the break.

The players look like they are willing to fight for each other and there is quality in the side too. What is still missing, with the average age of the starting XI again around 23, is experience, but nights like this will help. Following recent speculation that Aberdeen want to speak to O’Neill the right decision, should that happen, is surely for him to stay put. This team has potential and O’Neill is the perfect man to oversee it…

Bradley a special talent

Conor Bradley fires Northern Ireland ahead against Scotland
Image:
Conor Bradley fires Northern Ireland ahead against Scotland

“Earn the right to play” were the words Conor Bradley once used to describe the Liverpool motto under Jurgen Klopp in an interview with Sky Sports News. Well, the 20-year-old certainly showed that at Hampden Park. His determination to press Nathan Patterson and produce a moment of quality to create the goal for himself is another perfect example of what Bradley’s game is all about. Northern Ireland have got a special talent and he has a humble, selfless attitude to go with it.

Hume hassle helps add an edge

On a night of many outstanding performances Trai Hume was up for the fight. Some Scotland players appeared rattled by his aggressive style of play but he loves to block, tackle and hassle. Hume enjoys defending in its purest form and was schooled in this area playing for Linfield and Ballymena in a robust Irish Premiership.

Hume and Bradley, despite both being natural right backs or right wing backs, looked like they connected well together in their roles.

McNair a leader in this team

Scotland are now without a win in their last seven games
Image:
McNair speaks with Scott McTominay after Northern Ireland’s win

Former Manchester United man Paddy McNair has stepped up in recent games as captain in the absence of Jonny Evans. One of the few experienced players in the team he’s led the way with commanding performances at the heart of the Northern Ireland defence. He, Daniel Ballard and Eoin Toal were solid at Hampden and Brodie Spencer also grew into the game, making a crucial block late on.

Ali McCann was excellent and in Isaac Price and Shea Charles Northern Ireland have got two exciting young players. Jamie Reid has found his way into the team much later in his career and he put in a shift in his second senior start.

Brave Bailey

Lyndon Dykes is denied by Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Paddy McNair
Image:
Lyndon Dykes was denied by Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Paddy McNair

Bailey Peacock-Farrell deserves credit for overcoming a nasty head injury while playing for Aarhus in Denmark. He was knocked unconscious, required stitches, and suffered damage to his nose. It meant wearing a protective mask was necessary and there was one moment in the first half that tested his nerve, but he dealt well with it and avoided a collision with team-mate McNair and Lyndon Dykes. He also made an important save late on to deny Scotland an equaliser.

What’s next?

The Irish FA has been in talks over a friendly against Spain in June. It would be another big test for this young team and a chance to further enhance their development.

Northern Ireland fans are enjoying watching their team again.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top