Former boss Ian Baraclough believes the future looks bright for Northern Ireland

Former Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough believes the nation is on course to qualify for a major tournament again in the near future as he broke his silence following his dismissal last month.

Baraclough, 51, was sacked on October 21 having won only six of his 28 games in charge inside 90 minutes, also beating Bosnia & Herzegovina on penalties, with the Irish Football Association deciding to make a change before the start of Euro 2024 qualifying next year as fan discontent grew.

In a statement released via the League Managers Association, Baraclough said the opportunity to step up from his previous role with Northern Ireland’s Under-21s and replace Michael O’Neill in charge of the senior squad was “one of the greatest moments of my professional career to date”.

“My time at the helm was not without challenges; the Covid-19 pandemic, injuries to key players, and a squad in transition were all factors we had to accept and work with,” he said.

“I do think now that the squad are ready to take the next step on this journey and qualify for another major tournament.”

Baraclough took charge of Northern Ireland’s U21s in May 2017 before replacing O’Neill in June 2020, with a brief to help several of those younger players follow him in making the step up.

Results were disappointing as Northern Ireland missed out on qualification for both Euro 2020 and this month’s World Cup, narrowly avoiding a second consecutive relegation in the Nations League, but Baraclough helped the likes of Dan Ballard, Ali McCann and Conor Bradley become established.

Michael O’Neill
Ian Baraclough replaced Michael O’Neill, pictured, as Northern Ireland boss (Niall Carson/PA)

“A special mention should go to the group of players I have worked with over the past five and a half years,” he said.

“The experience of working with the young talent of Northern Ireland, through to the elite senior players has been a real joy and positive for me.

“I will take great pride in watching these young players develop into established internationals and having a great impact for Northern Ireland in future World Cups and Euros.”

Baraclough said the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final win over Bosnia and Herzegovina on penalties and the goalless draw against Italy at Windsor Park last November were among the stand-out moments of his tenure.

“I would like to thank the supporters who, after the difficulties of Covid-19, followed us in great numbers around Europe, and continued to make Windsor Park a difficult place for other nations to visit,” he said.

“I have made many friends and have enjoyed the famous warmth and hospitality of the people of Northern Ireland. The country will hold a special place in my heart and I will always look out for their results and will be a GAWA supporter for life.”

The IFA is yet to appoint a successor to Baraclough. O’Neill, who left the role to take charge of Stoke, is seen as a prime contender for the job after the 53-year-old left the Potters in August.