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Thursday 31 Aug 2023
Stephenson and Carroll join Wright’s backroom team

New Northern Ireland Under-21 men’s team manager Tommy Wright has named key members of his backroom team.

Ahead of the start of the UEFA U21 Euro 2025 qualifying series, Wright revealed he will have two familiar faces alongside him during the campaign.

Paul Stephenson, who was Wright’s assistant during his managerial spell at Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership, will take on the role of assistant manager, while former Northern Ireland international Roy Carroll is the new goalkeeping coach.

The U21s boss said both men had a wealth of experience as both players and coaches.

Since hanging up his boots in 2003, Stephenson has coached at youth team level at Hartlepool United and as first team coach with Norwich City, Huddersfield Town and Blackpool as well as his stint as assistant boss at Kilmarnock. He also had a short spell in his early coaching career as caretaker manager at Hartlepool.

Stephenson started his playing career with Newcastle United, where he was a team-mate of former international goalkeeper Wright. A lively winger, he subsequently played for Millwall, Gillingham (loan), Brentford, York City and Hartlepool, making nearly 500 senior appearances in total.

Roy Carroll was goalkeeping coach for the Northern Ireland senior men’s team during part of Ian Baraclough’s time in charge. And he was goalkeeping coach for the Northern Ireland U19 and U17 teams during 2021 when Gerard Lyttle was manager of both squads.

Carroll, who played for Manchester United, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic, Linfield, Odense (DEN) and Olympiacos (GRE) among others during a lengthy career and won 45 caps for his country, is also currently a key part of the coaching team at the Irish FA JD Academy. He is head goalkeeping coach at the academy, which is based at Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus.

And the sports scientist at the Irish FA JD Academy, Simon Coleman, will be taking on that role with the U21s, too.

The U21s boss worked with Carroll when Wright was goalkeeping coach for the senior men’s international team between 2012 and 2013 under current Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill.

Meanwhile, the Under-21s manager said he is confident Northern Ireland can do well in Group F of the UEFA U21 Euro 2025 qualifying series where their opponents will be England, Ukraine, Serbia, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

He pointed out: “Hopefully we can have a strong campaign. We have a good squad and a good selection of players to pick from. I think there’s good competition in all areas of the pitch.”

Wright believes the squad has a good mix of older players who have previously played for the U21s and younger players who are new to the U21s set-up.

They are set to face Luxembourg in the opening match of their qualification campaign at Lurgan’s Mourneview Park next Thursday (7 September; 2pm kick-off).

Game two will see them come up against second seeds Ukraine away on Tuesday 12 September. That game is due to be staged at the Slovakian FA’s national training centre in Poprad (18.30 BST).

Image: Paul Stephenson on the training pitch during his spell as assistant boss at Kilmarnock.