St Johnstone midfielder Ali McCann’s international debut has been described as “fantastic” by his Northern Ireland manager.
The 20-year-old looked to the manor born in Sunday night’s Nations League clash with Austria, showing the energy and composure in the middle of the pitch that Perth supporters have become accustomed to.
McCann’s start was one of eight changes Ian Baraclough made to his team following their heart-breaking extra-time defeat to Slovakia in the Euro 2020 play-off final.
And the young Saint’s performance was one of the highlights of another cruel loss.
“I thought Ali had a fantastic debut,” said Baraclough, whose side took the lead before going down to two late goals. “One to be really proud of.
“We knew what we were going to get from him with his work-rate and endeavour. He was calm on the ball and he managed the occasion very well.
“He was helped along by the senior players and that is what his job is all about.”
With no Euro finals for Northern Ireland to look forward to, McCann can expect more game-time in the coming months and years as Baraclough oversees a changing of the guard.
“We are trying to bring one or two younger players through,” he said. “Dan Ballard has played four games, Ali made his debut tonight.
“Ethan Galbraith didn’t get off the bench tonight but he will have seen more about it and will be good for his 10 or 11 days with us.
“It’s going to be a slow process and you have to be patient with them and tonight I think the two younger ones have put in excellent performances.”
Meanwhile, McCann admitted that the late twist was a cruel end to a proud night for him.
“I thought we were good and played well, we probably deserved something from the match and in the end it’s gutting to get nothing,” he told Sky Sports.
“But there were positive signs and we can count ourselves disappointed to come away empty-handed.
“We worked on our shape in the days leading up to this obviously and it worked out well. We limited them to very little until the last 10 minutes.
“It’s all well and good saying afterwards that we should have held on, but we put so much into the game and they got two wee chances and we’re just disappointed we didn’t manage to hold on to something in the end.”