Monday, September 26, 2022

By Ian Parker, PA, Athens

Ian Baraclough welcomed Conor McMenamin back into his Northern Ireland squad before revealing the video that led to Kyle Lafferty being sent home was believed to have been taken after a team-bonding dinner in Belfast last week.

Both McMenamin and Lafferty were withdrawn from the squad ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Kosovo amid separate social media controversies.

A video emerged last Wednesday appearing to show Lafferty using an alleged sectarian slur and, after the 35-year-old was sent home amid an investigation launched by his club Kilmarnock, an historical video showing McMenamin appearing to sing a pro-IRA slogan was also shared.

Conor McMenamin (right) in action for Northern Ireland away to Kosovo
Conor McMenamin (right) in action for Northern Ireland away to Kosovo (Valdrin Xhemaj/AP).

That video is thought to have been captured when the Glentoran winger (27) was still a teenager, with the former Clifonville and Linfield player punished by his club at the time. In that context, on Monday he was cleared by an independent disciplinary panel to play in Tuesday’s match.

Lafferty remains out as he awaits the outcome of Kilmarnock’s investigation.

When asked if the incident involving Northern Ireland’s second-highest goal-scorer came after the squad went out for dinner on Tuesday night, Baraclough said: “I believe so.”

He added: “We all went out. We all went to the restaurant and we all came back. The players had a day off the next day. They are adults.

 

“They know they have got a responsibility and when they are on international duty they are still representing themselves, their clubs, their families and me. You can’t keep them cooped up in a hotel and you give them a certain amount of trust.

“You hope that is the right thing to do going forward as well. We are talking about a team bonding session and people being themselves and seeing them in their natural state and at times you do have to learn from it.

“It might be something that we look at further down the line. It has always served Northern Irish teams really well when they have had that bit of time to themselves, so for me it was something we weren’t expecting to wake up to those sorts of headlines and that type of news. I’m disappointed.”

Baraclough said McMenamin, who earned three caps after getting his first Northern Ireland call-up in June, had been “distraught” when first informed he was out of the squad at the weekend, but he is ready to play now back in the fold.

“I think it’s one thing to give him the bad news, it’s another then saying you want him to travel, you think everything is going to be cleared by then hopefully, and he had no hesitation at all,” Baraclough said. “To be able to give him that news is obviously a better conversation.”

Ian Baraclough
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has sought to focus on on-pitch matters. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

The issues have been a distraction for Northern Ireland during an important international window. Saturday’s win over Kosovo was their first in the Nations League in 15 attempts, but they are still not safe from relegation to League D with one game left to play.

For a third press conference in four days, Baraclough was left facing questions about the Irish Football Association’s handling of the situation.

The announcement of Lafferty’s withdrawal left ambiguity as to the reason as the statement also mentioned a back injury which would have ruled him out of Saturday’s game regardless, while many saw McMenamin’s exit as an over-reaction to historic footage.

“It is not for me to comment on that,” Baraclough said when asked about the IFA’s actions. “For me it is about what happens on the pitch and trying to stay focused on the game.

“Fortunately we had a performance and we got the result as well. For me you move on to the next game. I look after the football side of things and take guidance on all the rest.”

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