Ethan Galbraith makes Northern Ireland debut: Why he could be special

“He is a lovely player, so easy on the eye,” Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill told the Belfast Telegraph of international debutant and Manchester United youngster Ethan Galbraith. The midfielder admitted he was “lost for words” after coming off the bench at the age of 18.

Spotted by United scout Tony Coulter playing for Linfield under-16s, Galbraith eventually penned a contract at Old Trafford in January 2017. He dealt with the pressure of a one-year deal and a move away from his native Northern Ireland.

Earning himself a professional contract after 14 appearances in United’s 2017/18 title-winning campaign, it was Galbraith who secured the first-place finish with a sublime goal against Man City.

Galbraith makes Northern Ireland debut

He certainly is ‘easy on the eye’. His balance and agility in the centre of midfield is combined with great vision. Mason Greenwood enjoyed playing with the Irishman before he moved on to the first team.

As Greenwood shone last year, Galbraith contributed to eight goals in 17 league starts. He now shows the same qualities in the under-23s setup.


Galbraith was the 121st international to graduate from United’s academy, and one of the few to do so before making their first team debut at the club. 

Source: @mrmujac, Twitter

Galbraith behind Garner and Levitt

It’s taken something unique for Galbraith to force his way into various sides at United. James Garner and Dylan Levitt are a central midfield partnership formed over a decade. The Anglo-Welsh pair have developed together in Manchester since the age of eight. Galbraith has had to come in and show why he deserves to start in front of them.

Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Jim Magilton, Elite Performance Director at the Irish FA, once explained that Galbraith “shone like a beacon” at the age of 16 in an under-21 squad. It’s his confidence on the ball in midfield that is so refreshing to watch.

A confident, technical midfielder

Galbraith can touch a lofted ball down, poke it over the head of an oncoming defender and then continue to stride forward and bring his teammates into the game.

It’s a similar trait to Paul Pogba who frequently shows his technical ability as he dribbles over the halfway line. For both, it’s a wonderful harmony between balance, confidence and talent.

“He was a sponge when you spoke to him. He took the information in – he was a joy to work with, a brilliant kid who loves the game and wanted to be out on the pitch more than anything.”

Jim Magilton, Elite Performance Director at the Irish FA – speaking to BBC Sport

He goes to ground and wins tackles, picking up a few inevitable bookings along the way, and his vision can split a defence and change a game. He’s had the fortune to play in two very good United youth sides.

The under-18s team was filled with the talent of Greenwood, Chong, Gomes, Garner, Levitt, Laird, Williams and many more. Now he’s progressed to the under-23s, he’s playing in a balanced, organised side again. That will only help the Glengormley boy to continue to develop.

Galbraith video highlights

“It was nice to give him the motivation and focus to kick on in his career,” O’Neill said on Thursday night.

Though it will be difficult with Garner and Levitt ahead of him, Galbraith is progressing well at United. As he grows in stature, it’s a vital season. Fundamentally, though, he’s an entertaining midfielder who creates space and chances with flashes of joyful exuberance. 

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Life-long Manchester United fan with a strong interest in the club's academy. Host of the Manchester United Weekly Podcast and United Through Time. First game at Old Trafford was the 7-1 rout of AS Roma in 2007.