Advertisement

Romania 1-1 Northern Ireland: 'No fear' as we build for the future - Conor Bradley

Much has been made of Jurgen Klopp's 'Liverpool reloaded', now Michael O'Neill is attempting something similar with his Northern Ireland 2.0.

The average age of his team was just 23.5, with an average of 14.5 caps across the eleven players who started in Bucharest.

It's a complete contrast to the team he guided to the Euro 2016 finals, which was a side with international experience right through its backbone.

His new Northern Ireland team are anything but that. The oldest player in his starting team was Jamie Reid at 29, who was making his debut.

Paddy McNair and Jordan Thompson are experienced heads, but the only other players to have double figures in caps were 20-year-olds Conor Bradley and Shea Charles on 13 caps, while 22-year-old Trai Hume had 10.

After a morale-boosting win over Denmark in Belfast in November to end a disappointing Euro 2024 campaign on a high, Friday's draw with Romania - who qualified for Euro 2024 and were unbeaten in 11 matches - is another step in the right direction.

"Michael said to go out there and play with no fear and play the way you have been playing for your clubs," said Liverpool's Bradley.

"I think we did that tonight. We need to continue to do that, to go out there and give it our all and try to play as much as we can.

"I think good things will come our way."

'Young players showed character'

Bradley is the joint link between the comparison between Klopp's refreshed Liverpool and O'Neill's youthful side. He has carried his outstanding form for the Anfield side into his international set-up.

He linked up well with Charles, Hume and Isaac Price - another 20-year-old - and O'Neill was quick to praise his young players.

"That right side of the pitch is very, very young but what they showed was great quality," O'Neill added.

"What we do have in the team is great running power and Conor epitomises that. Brodie [Spencer], on the other side, is only 19 and he epitomises that as well.

"When you have those types of legs in the team then you have a chance. I thought we displayed that tonight.

"For a lot of these lads, the last campaign was their first campaign. We suffered defeats and we weren't set up the way we needed to in terms of the style of game we played. We had a lot more possession at times in the game and we have learned to be better without the ball.

"We are missing some senior players, but this is probably the strongest squad that we have at this minute in time.

"It is a very young squad, so the experience of coming here and playing is invaluable, especially against a team who won their qualifying group.

"I thought we more than matched them. When you get a chance to play in some of the best stadiums in Europe, you have to have the right character for it. I think they showed that tonight."

Now NI will look to keep the optimism building against another Euro 2024-bound side in Glasgow on Tuesday in Scotland, who lost 4-0 to the Netherlands.

You can still expect growing pains as O'Neill's side develops, but the kids are alright, you know.