5 main talking points as Stuart Dallas leads new-look Northern Ireland side

·3-min read

Northern Ireland will play the first of their two end-of-season internationals on Sunday when they take on Malta.

The match will take place in Klagenfurt, Austria, where Ian Baraclough’s side have held a training camp this week.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at the key talking points ahead of the match.

Fresh faces

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Alfie McCalmont is among the players who will be looking to make their mark (Joe Giddens/PA)

Baraclough made it clear his senior players were not obligated to make the trip after a long season which started almost as soon as the last one ended. While several of them have travelled, Baraclough’s squad includes plenty of youngsters, most obviously teenaged defenders Conor Bradley and Sam McClelland. In recent years the likes of Gavin Whyte, Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Conor Hazard have used end of season tours to force their way into the thinking for more regular call-ups, and Baraclough will be wanting players such as Alfie McCalmont, Ethan Galbraith and Dion Charles to make their mark in the next week.

Dallas gets his rewards

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Stuart Dallas will captain the side after an outstanding season for Leeds (Michael Regan/PA)

After an intense season in which he scooped Leeds’ player of the year, players’ player of the year and goal of the season awards on the back of last year’s promotion push, Stuart Dallas could have been forgiven for wanting a breather this month. But the 30-year-old had no interest in that and quickly committed to making the trip. His reward will be leading the side out as captain for the second time in his career – less than six months after the first in November’s Nations League defeat to Austria.

Limited options

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Shayne Lavery will not travel for the games, instead remaining with Linfield to see out the season (Niall Carson/PA)

Though Baraclough named a 25-man squad for this fixture and Thursday’s trip to Ukraine, only 22 players will be available on Sunday evening. George Saville has arrived in Austria in time to train for the match, but Kyle Lafferty is not expected until Sunday morning, while Dan Ballard remains with Blackpool ahead of their League One play-off final. Shayne Lavery was also named in the initial group, but it has now been decided he will remain with Irish League champions Linfield to see the season out and enjoy the title celebrations before an anticipated move away this summer.

Playing for their futures

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Niall McGinn is among the out of contract players in the squad (Jeff Holmes/PA)

While several players will want to use this trip to nail down their place in the national side, others will be using it as a shop window for club football. Niall McGinn is out of contract at Aberdeen this summer while Paul Smyth, who spent the season on loan at Accrington, has also been released by QPR. Lafferty, who should get his chance on Thursday, is expected to leave Kilmarnock after their relegation from the Scottish Premiership.

Malta no Turkeys

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Northern Ireland were originally scheduled to be taking on Turkey in Antalya on Monday before the pandemic forced the cancellation of that fixture and the hasty scheduling of this match in Klagenfurt – first set for Monday and then brought forward by 25 hours. Though Malta look the easier opponents on paper Baraclough has dismissed such talk, insisting there are “no minnows” in international football any more. One thing that is certain, however, is that the Austrian Alps should offer more forgiving temperatures than Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – which could be key after an exacting domestic campaign.

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