Craig Cathcart backing next generation to push forward

Craig Cathcart has backed Daniel Ballard and Ciaron Brown to have big futures with Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 6th June 2021, 6:00 am

With Jonny Evans absent through injury Cathcart lined up alongside Cardiff’s Brown, 23, twice over the past week, while the 21-year-old Ballard came into the Northern Ireland side for Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Ukraine after helping Blackpool earn promotion to League One at the weekend.

And though Northern Ireland could not follow up Sunday’s 3-0 win over Malta as they were edged out in Dnipro, Cathcart was impressed by his younger team-mates.

“They are two young players who have come into the team and every time they play they do really well,” the Watford defender said. “They’re going to have a great future. They’re playing club football week in, week out now and that can only develop them further.

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Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart. Pic by Pacemaker.

“They’re going to be big players for Northern Ireland.”

Brown would have Northern Ireland’s best chance of the game in Ukraine, with his header being clawed to safety by Heorhiy Bushchan.

“I was right behind it to be fair and he got a good contact on it from a great delivery and if we had gone in at the break 1-1 we would have been really happy,” Cathcart added. “It was a really tough game. Ukraine are a really good side and you could see why they’re going to the Euros.

“They caused a lot of problems, especially in the first half and we found it hard to deal with their movement.

“But we came in at half-time 1-0 down, had a good chat and changed a few things and we were unlucky not to get a goal early in the second half.

“It’s never easy in these camps with lads coming in at different stages of their fitness, but it has been good.

“We got a good win against Malta, played a really good Ukraine team and while it was a difficult match, we can learn from the experience.”

After 17-year-old Conor Bradley made his debut in the Malta win, Thursday was the turn of Chelsea teenager Sam McClelland.

“It was a dream come true for me,” said McClelland, who has yet to play for his club at senior level.

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