Sign up to the Irish FA Newsletter today

Keep up-to-date with all the latest news from the Irish FA including ticket updates, match information, competitions, articles and much more.
Thank you

Thursday 21 Mar 2024
Wright expecting tough challenges for U21s

Northern Ireland Under-21s boss Tommy Wright says his players are facing two tough challenges in the coming days.

The first of those tests is later today (21 March) when the U21s face Czechia in a friendly in the CFIG Arena in Pardubice (4.30pm kick-off UK time).

And the second one is a UEFA U21 Euro 2025 qualifier against Serbia next Tuesday (26 March). That game is being staged in the Gradski Stadion Dubocica in Leskovac, with a 6pm start UK time.

“We could have looked for easier opposition (than Czechia) but I don’t actually see the point in that. We want to test the players,” said Wright.

The U21s boss also said the game against the Czechs would provide his players with experience of playing against top quality opposition.

Back in October the Under-21s lost out 2-1 to Serbia’s U21s at Mourneview Park.

It was a pretty feisty affair in the U21 Euro 2025 qualifying series and Wright believes the game next week will be another rugged encounter.

The Northern Ireland squad features several players who ply their trade in the Irish League and the U21s boss was quick to praise them.

He said the standard of football in the NIFL Premiership has improved and as a result players who operate in the Irish League are on his radar and will not be overlooked if they are playing well.

A handful of players who were in Wright’s original 22-strong panel for the games against the Czechs and the Serbs have since had injury setbacks and are now not available for selection.

They include Nottingham Forest midfielder Jamie McDonnell, Linfield striker Chris McKee, Waterford midfielder Barry Baggley (on loan from Fleetwood Town), Inverness Caledonian Thistle midfielder Sean McAllister (on loan from Everton) and Huddersfield Town striker Conor Falls.

Fleetwood Town goalkeeper Stephen McMullan has been added to the squad since it was first announced, while defender Aaron Donnelly, currently on loan at Dundee from Nottingham Forest, has been added to the senior panel for their upcoming friendlies against Romania and Scotland.

Late additions to what is now a 23-strong U21s squad include Linfield midfielders Rhys Annett and Josh Archer, Loughgall striker Benjamin Magee and Glentoran defender Johnny Russell. They are all in the Northern Ireland international set-up for the first time.

They join fellow Irish League operators Sean Stewart (Cliftonville, on loan from Norwich City), Odhran Casey (Cliftonville) and Ethan McGee (Linfield), who were all named in the original panel. It’s also Casey’s first U21s call-up.

Striker Charlie Lindsay (Glentoran, on loan from Derby County), who has been in several U21 squads previously, is a late addition as well along with Larne midfielder Dylan Sloan, who steps up from the U19s.

The Northern Ireland U21s squad for the games against Czechia and Serbia is as follows:

Goalkeepers - Fraser Barnsley (Everton), Stephen McMullan (Fleetwood Town), Pierce Charles (Sheffield Wednesday).

Defenders - Carl Johnston (Fleetwood Town), Johnny Russell (Glentoran), Tommy Fogarty (Ebbsfleet United, on loan from Birmingham City), Sean Stewart (Cliftonville, on loan from Norwich City), Odhran Casey (Cliftonville), Ruairi McConville (Brighton and Hove Albion), Ethan McGee (Linfield), Sam McClelland (Dundee United, on loan from St Johnstone), Craig Farquhar (Crystal Palace).

Midfielders - Rhys Annett and Josh Archer (both Linfield), Patrick Kelly (West Ham United), Dylan Sloan (Larne), Justin Devenny (Crystal Palace), Charlie Allen (York City, on loan from Leeds United), Darren Robinson (Derby County).

Forwards - Ciaran McGuckin (Dundalk, on loan from Rotherham United), Dale Taylor (Wycombe Wanderers, on loan from Nottingham Forest), Benjamin Magee (Loughgall), Charlie Lindsay (Glentoran, on loan from Derby County).