DERRY CITY defender, Ben Doherty believes Ian Baraclough’s influence in the Northern Ireland U21 set-up has handed League of Ireland players a real opportunity to impress at international level.
The talented 21 year-old wing-back is set to receive his second international cap for N. Ireland U21s tonight when Baraclough’s side resume their Euro 2019 qualifying campaign in Slovakia (k.o. 7.30 p.m).
And he’s joined in the N. Ireland panel by his good friend and Derry City teammate, Conor McDermott and Strabane man, David Parkhouse (Sheffield United) as they look to extend their 100 per cent record following victories over Estonia (2-1) and Albania (1-0).
Baraclough’s outfit currently top Group Two which also features Spain, but Doherty knows tonight’s test in Senica against the Slovaks will be a huge step up in class from last Thursday’s clash against Albania at Mourneview where the Derry lad was handed his first taste of action for the U21s.
“We were watching highlights from their games today,” said Doherty from the N. Ireland camp in Slovakia. “They only beat Estonia 2-1 as well but it will be a step up from the other games we’ve played. There are no easy games at this level but it’s not out of our reach.”
Doherty, the son of former Derry City skipper, Eamon, received a surprise call-up to the N. Ireland U21 squad to face Albania as one of seven changes Baraclough made to the team which secured a famous 2-1 win against Estonia in Tallinn.
He played at left wingback in a 3-5-2 formation in the comfortable 1-0 win over the Albanians with McDermott at right wingback as Liam Donnelly netted a stoppage time penalty.
Baraclough has turned around the team’s fortunes dramatically since being appointed in May and Doherty’s delighted the former Sligo Rovers manager is fully aware of the standard of football played in the League of Ireland and was prepared to give him a chance.
“Getting my first cap was a good experience and after what has happened this year, for myself to get into the team was an achievement in itself. I didn’t expect to play. When it happened I was obviously delighted.
“In the past it’s just been a case of if you are an international then you play across the water and if you don’t play across the water then you’re not good enough to play international level,” he said.
“Ian knows what the league is about. He knows it’s a good standard and there are good players coming through. You have Jamie McDonagh from Sligo Rovers as well who came back from Scotland and he’s in the team as well. It’s better that Ian doesn’t overlook the League of Ireland because, in the past, players haven’t got the recognition they deserved.
“When a player gets his chance across the water, all of a sudden they’re good enough to play for N. Ireland whereas the whole time they’ve been good enough.”
Doherty impressed in his 90 minutes against Albania alongside McDermott - who made his third appearance for N. Ireland U21s - and he reckons they didn’t look out of place alongside their international teammates who largely ply their trade with English Championship clubs.
“No harm to the players that are in the squad but myself and ‘McD’ have been here coming up to 10 days and we don’t look out of place,” he insisted . “Everyone is at the same standard. It’s all about getting a few breaks and keeping at it.
“If you came to watch us at training you wouldn’t think we are playing at a different level that the rest of them. Some are playing U23 football but aren’t playing against men every week and there’s no competitiveness.”
Derry City winger, Ronan Curtis is also on international duty tonight for the Republic of Ireland U21s in Baku, Azerbaijan as they resume their Euro Championship campaign and Doherty, who has been keeping in touch with his teammate, believes it’s no coincidence City players are making the breakthrough at international level.
“John Quigg, Hugh Harkin and Eddie Seydak, from the moment you go through the door at Derry they’re just looking to get you in the first team.
If you play for the first team then their job is done. They don’t hold you back.
It’s great to see Rory Holden get his move to Bristol City and we’ve been keeping in contact with Ronan (Curtis) who’s in the Republic of Ireland squad. We’re chatting all the time about how they’re doing and hopefully they get a result tomorrow as well.”