Northern Ireland go to Euros ‘with optimism’

Date published: Friday 9th October 2015 8:15

Michael O’Neill insists his Northern Ireland side are not going to Euro 2016 to make up the numbers after a history-making night in Belfast.

O’Neill’s men ended a 30-year absence from tournament football with a 3-1 victory over Greece at Windsor Park.

Captain Steven Davis was the inspirational figurehead, scoring either side of Josh Magennis’ first international goal to take his country to a first ever European Championship.

And O’Neill was quick to assert that merely reaching the finals was not the height of Northern Irish ambition.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved, this is certainly the highest point of my career, either as a player or a manager,” he said.

“Now we can look forward to the tournament. We’re not just going to go to France and enjoy it…we’re going to go and try to make an impact.

“I genuinely believe, fitness and availability willing, we can go there with a real optimism.”

O’Neill will not want for praise or plaudits in the days and weeks to come, job offers too perhaps, but does not want his own name up in lights.

Instead he expects his squad to be the heroes, and nobody more so than Southampton midfielder Davis.

“It’s just an amazing feeling, what we have to look forward to, but this is about the players, to see their reaction is where I get the real buzz,” he said.

“We saw all the good things in Northern Ireland out there. The bond between crowd and team is really, really strong.

“Steven’s performance was out of this world. He is a magnificent captain.

“Anyone in the squad will validate that opinion. That gives you an indication of the type of player and person he is.

“We’ve come from an era where Northern Ireland players were criticised for not being available at certain times, but in this squad we have real togetherness and spirit.

“For those players who’ve been through campaign after campaign and been through loads of disappointments – and had a lot of criticism – this is their moment as much as it is mine.”

Davis, who was just a year old when his country went to the Mexico World Cup in 1986, was clearly emotional about his contribution on such a famous day.

He explained: “When I scored it obviously meant a lot because my mum passed away in 2008. She was my biggest fan…those two goals were for her.

“It’s strange, I just lost myself in the moment and she came into my head at the important time.”

During his pre-match press conference Davis had spoken of the need for a new Northern Irish hero to emerge when it mattered most, and he added: “I didn’t think it would be me, but the most important thing is we won.

“I was delighted to get on the scoresheet but credit to everyone of the players and the management. It was a real team effort and you saw what it meant to us all at the final whistle.”

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