Ian Baraclough does not expect to lose players to international retirement in the immediate aftermath of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final loss to Slovakia.
The Green and White Army’s hopes of reaching a second consecutive European Championships were dashed in a cruel 2-1 extra-time defeat at Windsor Park on a night when luck rarely seemed to be on the side of Baraclough’s men.
The loss raised questions over some of the senior players in the group, not least 35-year-old captain Steven Davis, but Baraclough said he was not aware of anyone in the group eyeing the exits as a World Cup qualifying campaign looms.
“Those in the dressing room can all go again,” he said. “There was nobody found wanting there. You talk about Davo who is a massive character and a driving force for everybody. He’s still playing at a very good level.
“I’ve never spoken or thought about anybody finishing their international career. Our two centre-backs are only in their early 30s, they could play for another six, seven, eight years. I have no thoughts on that.
“This is hurting and this will hurt but we will regroup and it will be tough watching the Euros for sure. It is the worst I’ve felt after a game but they are a group that has shown time and time again that they are resilient and they will pick themselves up.”
As the reality of defeat sank in, Northern Ireland had less than 72 hours to refocus on Sunday’s Nations League match away to Group B1 leaders Austria on Sunday night before they return to Belfast to face Romania next week.
💬 "It's going to hurt for quite some time"— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 13, 2020
Josh Magennis, a goalscorer when Northern Ireland beat Greece to qualify for Euro 2016 but also part of the squad that narrowly missed out on the World Cup two years later, said the players would help each other.
“Football is a brilliant sport, but sometimes it can be so cruel and we just have to go again,” he said.
“We will lean on each other and talk about it, chew the fat and the most important thing we have here with Northern Ireland is that we are properly together.
“We won’t leave anyone on their own, unless they need to do that to come to terms with missing out on the Euros.
“We will meet the challenge head on. It wasn’t meant to be for us this time but we’ve just got to bounce back.
“It will be hard, probably more mental than physical, but we have to go again on Sunday.”
Refocusing minds may prove difficult, but Baraclough emphasised the importance of seeding as he now looks to the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“We want to get something from the two games, Austria away and Romania back here, to give ourselves something to look forward to for the next World Cup campaign,” he said.
“You have to pick yourselves up. This group has shown they are resilient time and time again and there’s no reason we can’t go into the World Cup campaign and put together a group of games to put ourselves in contention again.”
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