Home Dog senses Estonia v Northern Ireland: Tom Flanagan feels “something special” is developing under Ian Baraclough

Estonia v Northern Ireland: Tom Flanagan feels “something special” is developing under Ian Baraclough



Black Cat Tom Flanagan believes Northern Ireland’s luck is changing under Ian Baraclough and he hopes to hit the jackpot by reaching a major tournament with the Green and White Army.

Flanagan, who plans to set a milestone in Estonia on Sunday ahead of Wednesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier with the Swiss, has had to be patient to seize the opportunities so far.

But he believes the future is bright for the national setup with so many young players making an early mark under Baraclough who was named last year.

No less than six players who started Thursday’s 4-1 victory in Lithuania are 24 years old or younger, including Daniel Ballard and Shayne Lavery who scored their first international goals.

When asked if he feels anything ‘special’ developing on Baraclough’s watch, Flanagan said: “I think so and it’s really refreshing to be in the middle of it and see the youngsters boys do so well.

“One of the differences, I think, is that young people are doing very well in their club careers and that transcends the international stage.

“There is also a real bond between the players. If this group is able to stick together – and I think they can – they can get to a major tournament at some point and be really successful.

Flanagan’s late cameo in Vilnius was his first appearance in green since a 2-1 Nations League loss to Austria in Vienna last November.

“I’m very happy to get back into the race,” said the 29-year-old, who has played for top League One club Sunderland this season.

It’s a long way from last season when Flanagan only played 16 of his club’s 46 league games due to a string of minor injuries.

“Last season is the one I want to put behind me,” he said. “It was a frustrating time so it’s great to be back and this game is a great opportunity to put our cards on the table.

“In international football you want to win as many caps as you can and try to make it to major tournaments, so coming back to the squad is great and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough

While Flanagan has nine modest caps on his CV to date, he has enjoyed several big games with Northern Ireland since his debut against New Zealand in 2017.

He was instrumental in the Euro play-off loss in October to Slovakia, started against Germany in Frankfurt and faced the Netherlands in a dramatic 3-2 loss to Rotterdam in the qualifiers for Euro 2020.

While on the green he faced players like Bayern Munich star Serge Gnrabry, Barcelona new boy Memphis Depay and Norwegian sensation Erling Haaland.

I “You learn a lot from these experiences,” he said. “I was very lucky to be responsible for playing and being put in place at important times, so it was very useful to me.

“I played in big games and I was very lucky and worked hard to get there. I have been very patient. I’ve been biding my time and I’m happy with where I am.



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