Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has thanked Republic of Ireland counterpart Stephen Kenny for his help in preparing for next week’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia.
Slovakia edged out the Republic on penalties last month to set up Thursday’s fixture at Windsor Park, and Kenny put aside his own disappointment to share scouting information and other pointers ahead of the crunch fixture.
“Stephen did ring me, he wished all the best for the upcoming game, and said that if there’s anything he could help with then I’d only have to ask,” Baraclough said.
“It was more the analysts getting together to have the game on widescreen, which was very good of him, I appreciate that.”
The phonecall came against the backdrop of Oxford midfielder Mark Sykes having switched allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic in late August, but Baraclough said the ongoing battle for players between the two nations did not mean the two managers could not also help one another.
“We’re both managing our teams, we’re both looking after our own affairs,” he said. “Things will happen along the line, you may not like certain conversations that you have to have, but I’m not one to hold grudges.
“It was great to receive a call from Stephen. It was probably a difficult call for him, so full respect for him for doing that. I appreciate the hand that he’s offered to me there.
💻 We caught up with the boss on Zoom after he announced his squad for the big one! He chats #GAWA, Jonny Evans and Ethan Galbraith! 💚 pic.twitter.com/c6jtRJ2OOq— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 5, 2020
“There are no grudges and I’m certainly not looking to open any wounds. Hopefully we can have a good relationship going on.”
Northern Ireland upset the odds to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo to earn their own place in the final, and are not universally fancied even on home turf back in Belfast – not that it concerns the manager.
“We know the expectation levels,” he said. “It’s been said to be that we’ll still be the underdogs; Slovakia have some good players, playing at a good level.
“But I’d be amazed if there’s any squad around the world that has the same club feel as we have when we all meet up. That togetherness, that drive as a group, means a lot.
“I’m all for people writing us off. People can say what they want, it’s all noise to us in the background.”
💬 Boss on @ManUtd teenager Ethan Galbraith | "It's a big moment for him to be selected outright but he's ready for it" 💚 #OnOurWay#GAWA#MUFCpic.twitter.com/xsqt4P1GSL— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 5, 2020
Baraclough on Thursday named a 26-strong squad for the Slovakia match and subsequent Nations League contests against Austria and Romania.
With Jordan Jones absent after breaking Covid-19 protocols at Rangers, 19-year-old Manchester United midfielder Ethan Galbraith was among the new faces in the squad.
Galbraith earned his first Northern Ireland cap last year in a friendly against Luxembourg, but could now make a first competitive appearance even before he has appeared for United – who handed him a new three-year contract last week – in the Premier League.
But Baraclough said Galbraith had been on the radar for some time and is now ready for the next step.
“I took the decision that it was right for the last couple of months that he played with the under-21s and got that international experience,” he said.
“He’s now playing regularly for Man United under-23s and being the best player on the pitch and in and around Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer)’s first-team set-up as well.
“He’s ready, I think, now for that step up. He now has to make sure when he comes in that he shows all the traits he has done with Man United for the last six months.
“We’ve seen him grow up as a person, as well as a player on the pitch. As long as he brings that into the camp with him I think he can make more strides.”
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