Alfie McCalmont: Northern Ireland youngsters must justify Ian Baraclough’s faith

Alfie McCalmont believes it is up to Northern Ireland’s next generation to justify the faith of manager Ian Baraclough in their upcoming friendlies against Malta and Ukraine.

The 21-year-old Leeds midfielder is part of a 25-man squad that blends youth and experience, with a host of players looking to establish their place in the senior side after recently stepping up from the youth ranks.

Baraclough, who was under-21s manager before replacing Michael O’Neill last year, is without the likes of Steven Davis and Jonny Evans for the trip but wants to take the opportunity to expand his options before the World Cup qualifying campaign resumes by blooding youngsters.

“It’s positive for all of us,” McCalmont said. “Obviously there are a lot of younger lads on this trip.

“The fact we’ve been given the chance to be part of the squad shows that we’ve got to repay the boss for the faith he’s shown in us by putting in good performances.”

Northern Ireland face Malta in Klagenfurt, Austria on Sunday evening before heading to Dnipro to take on Euro 2020-bound Ukraine next Thursday.

“My aim is to get some more game time,” McCalmont said of his personal targets for the trip.

“I’m concentrating on training well to give myself the best chance to be involved. If I do get the chance I’ve just got to get out there and show what I can do.”

McCalmont made his Northern Ireland debut in September 2019, only a month after making his first senior appearance for Leeds, but is yet to add to his sole cap.

He signed a new four-year deal at Leeds last summer before joining Oldham on loan, scoring eight goals in 39 appearances for the Latics.

“I’ve just got to keep progressing,” McCalmont added. “That’s what my aim is at the start of every season. I added goals to my game this season and hopefully I can keep doing that.

“I wasn’t really renowned for scoring a lot of goals before but this year it has happened so hopefully that continues.”

This is McCalmont’s first call-up under his old under-21 boss, and Baraclough is expecting to see a different player after his experiences at Boundary Park this season.

“Alfie is in the perfect place,” the manager said. “I have always encouraged players to go out on loan and play senior football, rather than stay at a club and have the comfort blanket of under-23s football.

“Alfie has gone out on loan and he will be better for his first season in senior football.

“He has scored goals during that period, and has had to deal with whatever Oldham Athletic have thrown at him.

“And he has learned a lot during that time. That education is invaluable.”

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