One of the biggest fears right now for fans of the Northern Ireland National Football Team is the loss of the experienced players going into future tournaments, and while this will be devastating for the nation when it does happen, there is hope with the amount of talent that has gone across the water lately.
While young players leaving the academies of the Irish Premiership for the English Football League and even the Premier League is nothing new, this year we have seen quite a few talented players join big clubs who have quite high praise for the young footballers.
Out of all these young players, the biggest move would be Connor Bradley joining Liverpool from Dungannon Swifts. He has been with Liverpool for a while, playing for the under-18 side, but recently made the permanent switch for Northern Ireland, signing the first professional deal of his career, after joining the Reds on a scholarship in September 2019. While I don’t expect Bradley to be playing under Jurgen Klopp anytime soon, the new training ground at Kirkby with more resources shared between the English, European, and World Champions with the stars of the future will allow him to hopefully make a transition up the pecking order over the next few seasons.
Bradley can play in multiple positions, but Liverpool have preferred to use him at right-back. This position is probably the one you don’t want to play in as a Liverpool youngster, with Trent Alexander-Arnold being tipped as the best right back in the league, if not the world at the moment, and being only 21 with young Welsh full-back Neco Williams coming into the first-team picture, Bradley’s versatility will prove vital if he wants to make it into the Liverpool first-team squad in the next few seasons.
From an international perspective, the full-back position is becoming an issue. Bradley was captain of the Northern Ireland Under-16 side that won the Victory Shield in 2018, and if he sticks with Northern Ireland, there is a pathway into the first team in the future. Michael Smith is coming towards the end of his international career, and Conor McLaughlin was used rather sparingly in the latter stages of Michael O’Neill’s tenure. By the time McLaughlin is ready to hang up his boots, occasional right-back Stuart Dallas would probably be too, and this could be Bradley’s chance to be an international player.
Charlie Allen will be playing for the newly-promoted Premier League side Leeds United next season after joining from Linfield. He is a player that Linfield manager David Healy speaks very highly of, and while he is still a fair bit away from the first-team squad, it is a move that could prove very successful for Allen. He will join up with the under-23 squad immediately, and for a 16-year-old, that is very impressive. Marco Bielsa might just be in the mood to let him play for the first team alongside Dallas and Alfie McCalmont, and that is a trio that Northern Ireland fans would like to see.
Allen currently plays in the Northern Ireland Under-17 squad, and after making his debut back in 2018, he should make the step up to the under-21s shortly if he is getting the game time at that level for Leeds.
Dale Taylor is another youngster that has gone across the water, this time to Nottingham Forrest. Like Allen, he leaves Linfield and is currently the captain of the Northern Ireland Under 17 squad. He is from the same area of Belfast as boxer Carl Frampton, and that’s all you need to know about his strength, both mentally and physically. Hopefully, he will get a chance in the Forrest youth teams to prove himself and make his way into the first-team squad in the coming years. He is another one for the future of the Northern Ireland team.
From the more regular Irish League players, we have seen two go across the water for full-time football. In the past, we have seen the likes of Gareth McCauley, Stuart Dallas, and more recently Bobby Burns, Gavin Whyte, Paul Smyth, and Mark Sykes.
Joel Cooper joins the Irish Premiership parent club of Oxford United, who just seem to buy all of the talents from the league. After just missing out on promotion after Paul Smyth’s Wycombe Wanders got the better of Mark Sykes’ Oxford United at Wembley, Copper is in a position to push for Championship football next season.
Josh Daniels joins up with League One side Shrewsbury Town in what was an unexpected deal. He was linked to various other Irish Premiership sides, most notably Linfield to replace Cooper. Like the former Linfield player, he is also a winger, and while Northern Ireland is quickly becoming stacked in this area, the versatility of Dallas and the ageing McGinn will start to give these players an opportunity to play at a sold-out Windsor Park, hopefully soon.
The Irish League is starting to become a great place for talent to be spotted, with many more local talents being linked daily with moves across the water. Hopefully, the league can continue to grow and with Club NI developing some great young players, the future of the Irish Premiership and the Northern Ireland National Football Team is looking bright.