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Ali McCann enjoying getting more international experience with Northern Ireland
Since making his debut against Austria in November 2020, McCann has collected 14 caps.
Ali McCann has only been a Northern Ireland international for a little over 18 months but it is easy to think he has been around much longer.
Since making his debut against Austria in November 2020, McCann has collected 14 caps, featuring in three-quarters of Northern Ireland’s games and starting 12 of them.
The Preston midfielder was the second of the 13 players – after Dan Ballard – to be handed his debut by boss Ian Baraclough so far, a chance he has grasped as he was trusted in World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Switzerland.
“I’m certainly getting more senior but I wouldn’t say I’m senior yet because you see the experience throughout the group, there’s lads that have been here for years,” the 22-year-old told the PA news agency.
“There are role models in the group that everyone should look up to like (Steven Davis), Jonny Evans, but as the camp has been going there’s been more and more young lads so I’m feeling more and more settled in it.”
McCann was 20 when he received his first call-up, but Northern Ireland’s squad has been getting ever younger, with teenagers Conor Bradley, Shea Charles and Brodie Spencer now getting their chance.
The transition to a younger squad, partly enforced by injuries, has been a contributing factor to a disappointing international window to date for Northern Ireland, who are yet to find a way to end their long-standing winless record in the Nations League.
The setbacks continued with Thursday’s 3-2 defeat to Kosovo, leaving Baraclough under increasing pressure as fans turned on him after the match.
However, McCann believes the rewards will come in the long term given three more players have made their debuts on this trip.
“There are loads of senior players out but it does give those opportunities for younger lads coming in,” he said.
“The more experience, myself included, that we can all get, on these trips it can only bode well for the future and hopefully the fans have been seeing the quality we do have from the younger ages.”
The last year-and-a-half has flown by for McCann, with his international breakthrough being followed by a move from St Johnstone to Preston last summer.
He admitted the move to the Championship had been a steep learning curve.
“Preston have been great,” he said. “I’ve loved moving down, it’s been pretty seamless. I can’t speak highly enough of the people, they’ve all welcomed me with open arms.
“It’s a really difficult league to play in as I’ve found out, the schedule is hectic, there’s loads of games but that is what you want as a footballer.”
Barely three months after arriving at Deepdale, McCann saw Frankie McAvoy, the man who had signed him, get shown the door as Ryan Lowe replaced him.
He added: “It’s difficult but I guess everyone in the team is in the same situation, everyone is desperate to impress the new manager.
“You’ve just got to work as hard as you can to make that good impression and whatever chances you do get, do the best you can.”
Having moved on deadline day, McCann is hoping a full pre-season with the club can help him take the next steps, having started a little under half of Preston’s games last term as they finished 13th.
The target then is a push for the play-offs.
“I think last year we had the chance if we’d kicked on we could maybe have made a late push for it but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
“The ambition definitely has to be…aiming for those play-off spots. You see Nottingham Forest going up this year, it looks brilliant and that’s what a club like Preston should be looking to do.”