Liam Hughes’ Liverpool boost an ‘inspiration’ to Northern Ireland youth
Liam Hughes’ weekend to remember for Liverpool should serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Northern Ireland talent.
That’s the verdict of Northern Ireland underage manager Gerard Lyttle following Hughes’ appearance for Liverpool under 23s on Saturday and a place on the senior substitutes’ bench the next evening during success over Sheffield United by the Premier League champions.
The absence of first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker due to the death of his father, plus Caoimhin Kelleher’s injury, left Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp turning to Adrian for the starting spot in the 2-0 victory - with Hughes and Jakub Ojrzynski the back-up options on the bench.
Spending Sunday within the first-team set-up alongside Liverpool superstars such as Mo Salah and Sadio Mane offered Hughes another reward for his rapid progress since making an Irish League debut with Portadown as a 15-year-old across the 2015/16 campaign.
Hughes joined Dungannon Swifts from the Ports before progress with Celtic ahead of a January deadline-day switch to Liverpool.
A clean sheet with Liverpool under 23s in the 4-0 weekend win over Arsenal marked another significant step for Hughes before taking his place within the Sunday matchday panel.
Lyttle, the recently-appointed manager of Northern Ireland under 19s and under 17s, views Hughes’ development as the end product of effort, application and embracing opportunity.
“We always stress to our players the need to be ready for any chance at any time and Liam’s path is a wonderful example of someone showing both that dedication and the ability to grab those opportunities,” said Lyttle. “It was brilliant to hear people talk about Liam during the coverage of the match and a superb boost for him so soon after playing for the under 23s.
“It was not so long ago he was making his Irish League debut and in a few short years he has been given first-team experience at a massive club like Liverpool.
“I am sure any of our young players watching at home on TV could only have taken inspiration from hearing about Liam and his progress.
“We have so much young talent at home and across the water, including on the books at some high-profile clubs, so there certainly is a pathway in place thanks to the hard work from the past to present.
“Liam’s story is another reminder to our players of just what can be achieved and the importance of keeping that belief in place as you strive to maximise every chance open.
“Although I have never worked directly with Liam, I am certainly delighted to see a player who has represented Northern Ireland up to the under 21s so far make such positive strides forward at club level.”
Lyttle’s own progress since a February appointment to the role has been disrupted by the recent decision to cancel this summer’s European Championships tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had qualifiers in Sweden this month for the under 19s but now everything has changed,” said Lyttle. “I am concentrating on keeping in touch with the players on a regular basis, with a lot of hard work behind the scenes to try and organise potential fixtures or training camps.
“There is an international window around June and the EURO 2022 qualifiers are planned to kick off in October for both squads.”
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