Michael O’Neill not surprised by way Conor Bradley has handled spotlight

Bradley has broken into Jurgen Klopp’s side and turned in a series of eye-catching displays, helping Liverpool to lift the Carabao Cup last month.

Ian Parker
Friday 15 March 2024 11:30 GMT
Conor Bradley has impressed for Liverpool (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Conor Bradley has impressed for Liverpool (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Archive)

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill has not been surprised by the way Conor Bradley has handled the spotlight after breaking into the Liverpool side with a string of impressive performances.

Northern Ireland fans have long been aware of the 20-year-old’s exciting talent as Bradley has earned 13 caps since making his senior debut in May 2021, a figure that would be much higher had he not missed the bulk of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign through injury last year.

Since returning to fitness, Bradley has broken into Jurgen Klopp’s side and turned in a series of eye-catching displays, helping Liverpool to lift the Carabao Cup last month.

O’Neill welcomed back Bradley to international duty when he named his squad on Thursday for the upcoming friendlies against Romania and Scotland, and said Bradley has moved up a gear since recovering from a back injury.

“Conor was a big loss to us in the qualification campaign,” O’Neill told the PA news agency. “But physically he’s come back even stronger than he was prior to the injury.

“Athletically he’s demonstrated that in games – he’s played some extremely intense games, massive games for Liverpool and he’s excelled in those games. He’s not just held his own but in most of the those games people have come away talking about his level of performance.

“That’s something, going forward, we expect and hope he can bring to the international stage.”

Bradley spent last season on loan at League One Bolton, but has made the step up to Premier League and European football look seamless – something O’Neill said comes down to his character.

“The biggest thing for me is Conor’s mentality, to be able to play in those games at such a crucial stage of the season,” he said.

“He’s a very humble lad, he’s not one to get carried away. He takes it in his stride. He’s experienced already some of the ups and downs of football and it’s great to see him play at this level. He’s going to be a very important player for us going forward…

“If you know Conor and his background and his upbringing, how he’s handled it is exactly how I would expect. He’s not one that courts the spotlight, he’s not one I imagine does very much on social media.

“His focus is on his football and his performances. Away from the pitch he prefers a quiet life so he’s got all the traits you need to be a top player in the modern era.”

While Bradley is back in O’Neill’s squad, a number of senior players remain absent, with Jonny Evans sitting out this international window nursing a calf injury.

As expected, it is still too soon for either Stuart Dallas or Corry Evans, long-term absentees, although O’Neill expects to see both players during next week’s training camp in Manchester.

Dallas, 32, has been out since suffering a broken femur in April 2022, having been frustrated by a number of setbacks in his recovery, while Corry Evans, 33, suffered a serious knee injury in January 2023.

“Both lads are coming to see us in Manchester so we’ll probably get a clearer picture then,” O’Neill said when asked about possible return dates.

“Their focus is to get back playing, to get back fit, and then they’ve both got contract situations to deal with as well, so international football is not at the forefront of their minds at this time.”

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