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Michael O’Neill says Northern Ireland camp has improved squad depth

Michael O’Neill praised Conor Bradley’s impact (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Michael O’Neill praised Conor Bradley’s impact (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Michael O’Neill believes Northern Ireland are building the squad depth they will need looking ahead to the Nations League and next year’s World Cup qualifiers.

O’Neill was able to hand a debut to Aaron Donnelly in Tuesday’s 2-0 friendly win over Andorra, three days after Caolan Boyd-Munce made his bow in the 5-1 defeat to Spain, and every outfield player in his squad got at least some game time over the two matches.

O’Neill would have liked to have seen his side score more against opposition ranked 91 places beneath them but this warm-weather training camp has helped the development of a young squad.

“You always want to score more goals,” O’Neill said. “We made a lot of good changes so it got everyone on the pitch, so every outfield player comes away with a cap or two caps and a lot of the younger players got minutes as well.

“I thought we were patient in the game, we created two good goals and created three or four chances in the second half which possibly we should have done better off but overall it was a worthwhile night and a very worthwhile camp.”

Conor Bradley took the plaudits with both goals against Andorra and it was another camp where Northern Ireland’s youngsters came to the fore – with the 24-year-old Daniel Ballard getting the captain’s armband in the absence of Jonny Evans.

“Conor was again terrific: he’s full of energy, his attitude is first-class and I think sometimes the other younger lads feed off that,” O’Neill said. “Him and Shea (Charles) have a real hunger for the game, you see it in Trai Hume and Brodie Spencer as well.

“That’s what you want, particularly in the younger players. They will emerge to be the leaders in this group. Every leader starts as a young player and you see certain things in certain players, (including) Dan Ballard as the captain.

“This is a young team but obviously come September we will have four or five additions to bring in the likes of Ali McCann, Conor Washington, George Saville, Paddy McNair, Dion Charles not with us, there’s going to be competition for places as well.

“You want a bit of depth, and if you’re not in the squad you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything to get in it.”

Bradley got his goals in the 16th and 23rd minutes, but Northern Ireland were unable to build on that platform as Callum Marshall and Jamal Lewis both went close before the break.

Bradley had a chance for a hat-trick in the second half but the Liverpool man tried a shot from a difficult angle, passing up an opportunity to feed Josh Magennis.

“Of course I would have loved to have got a hat-trick but I’m also happy with the two goals,” Bradley said.

“I was probably a bit greedy with the third shot I had but I’m buzzing with the two goals and buzzing with the win.

“(Magennis) had a few words for me but to be fair he said himself he would have done the same thing so it’s all love I hope.”