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Jubilant Northern Ireland footballers cheered off ahead of next game

Published 09/10/2015

Northern Ireland football captain Steven Davis with security staff at Belfast City Airport hours after the team stormed into the European Championship finals
Northern Ireland football captain Steven Davis with security staff at Belfast City Airport hours after the team stormed into the European Championship finals
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015.
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015. Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015. Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015. Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015. Northern Ireland Oliver Norwood
Northern Ireland players pictured this morning at George Best Belfast City Airport boarding there flight Finland ahead of there UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday 11th October 2015.
Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart and Chris Brunt, right, applaud the fans after the final whistle

Jubilant but bleary eyed Northern Ireland footballers were cheered and applauded as they arrived at an airport hours after storming their way into history.

The nation qualified for next year's European Championships in emphatic style with a 3-1 triumph over Greece at Windsor Park on Thursday.

The celebrations, which included a massive street party in Belfast city centre, lasted well into the night - but there was a noticeable spring in the step of dozens of fans waiting at Belfast City Airport to board a flight for Finland ahead of the next game on Sunday.

Glenda Johnston, from Carrickfergus in Co Antrim - who was married at Windsor Park five years ago and has not missed a game in almost a decade, said: "I actually cannot believe what happened last night.

"I am so happy. It means so much."

It is 30 years since Northern Ireland qualified for a major football tournament.

As gushing air stewardesses and burly security guards rushed to have their pictures taken with the players, one veteran squad member remarked: "How times have changed."

Captain Steven Davis, whose two goals helped secure a place in French finals, said the players were enjoying the limelight.

Speaking at the British Airways check-in desk, he admitted some squad members had only a few hours of sleep.

He said: "It hasn't really sunk in yet. It was an incredible night. We couldn't have asked for it to go any better. It is hard to put into words at this moment in time.

Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Greece fans during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan waves the French flag during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Boxer Carl Frampton before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Carley Strong and Audrey McClements. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Ian Irwin Annette McCauley and Richie Irwin. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Jake Quinn and his dad Graham Quinn. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Warren Beatty, Laura Jane Kernaghan, Lee Finley, Gareth Mcquillan and Johnny McKinstry. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans get behind their team on the Lisburn road before the game. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Lee Leckey and Jonny Wylie at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fan Gareth McQuillan at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ian Bannatyne, Ryan Armstrong, Stuart Gowey, Gary Herron, Phil Bannatyne, Billy Rankin and Ian Morrow at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Adam Shilliday, Stuart Mclees, Trevor Henderson and Glen Muir at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ryan Weir, James Irwin and Peter Graham from Omagh at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Johnathan Irvine and Oliver Norwoods dad (right) before the match. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Northern Ireland fan Christian king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 08th October 2015 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland fans Christian king and George king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast.
Stephen Warke getting in the mood for Northern Ireland v Greece
Colin (@ards1985) via Twitter: watching hopefully later in sunny Orlando with @kirstywoo85
Actor Glenn Speers (@GlennSpeers) via Twitter: I'll be following score in my dressing room in The Commitments at The Palace Theatre London
Euro 2016 Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland legend David Healy watching the match with fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
J McLorn with his son David at Windsor Park. Pic: J McLorn
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during today's game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans George King with twin son's Mason and Christain before the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Charlotte Cummings with her father Paul and sister Zoe from Antrim. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mason King (12) with his father George King, twin brother Christian and Daren Leighton from Donegal Pass. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Ethan Gibson(14), Lewis Orr-McCauley(16), Mathew Gibson(12), Samantha Orr-McCauley(6) and Grant Orr-McCauley(11). Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland v Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Mark Paul with his son Rhys and Gary from Newtownabbey. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fan Daniel Gracey (5) Ballymoney during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Buddy and Mylo watching at home. Photo: Kristine Hill
David McLorn before going to Windsor Park. Photo: J McLorn
Rory Beattie (8 months) getting ready to watch the match. Photo: Linda Taylor
Husband and wife Neil and Lorainne Fentie are looking forward to the big match against Hungary at Windsor Park. Picture Matt Bohill.
Northern Ireland fans Matthew Kernaghan, James Abraham, Ryan Blakely and Ben Speers cant wait for the big match at Windsor Park. Photo: Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Little Jake Quinn who is to lead out the Hungarian national team at Windsor Park cheers on Northern Ireland on top of his dad Graham Quinn's shoulders. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas and Josh Magennis ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) at this morning's training session - Hungary awaits. Picture - David Hunter.
Hungary on the horizon as Northern Ireland train at Windsor Park. Picture - David Hunter.

"We enjoyed last night -- that was important.

"For the boys that have been in the squad for a long time, there have been a lot of difficult times playing for Northern Ireland in terms of getting consistency of results. A few of the younger boys who have been in the squad for a short period of time have only really tasted success.

"It was important to enjoy last night and we did that."

Chants of "Green Army" rang out as supporters wearing Northern Ireland football tops and waving French tricolours reflected on the game with glee.

Stewart McDonald, from Ballymena - who was at Windsor Park, said: "We are absolutely delighted for this country. The fans deserve it, they have been through so much.

"There were years when we just couldn't score and now we are qualified for the Euros - it is amazing.

"The celebrations last night were unreal. The police had part of the city centre sealed off and let the fans have a good party - it was a great night."

Fermanagh man Nigel Tilson, who regrets not going to the 1986 Mexico World Cup, said he was ecstatic with their win.

He said: "I have been waiting for 30 years for this.

"I think Helsinki it is going to be one big party."

Jason Stewart, from Co Antrim, was also among the crowds of fans flying to Helsinki for Sunday's match.

"The atmosphere last night, before, during and after the game was absolutely brilliant," he said. " I have never seen so many happy people - everybody was singing and dancing. I didn't want to go home to be honest.

"I couldn't not go to France. I'll definitely be there."

Northern Ireland's historic win has been lauded by some of the country's most famous sports stars.

Golfer Rory McIlroy, who was in the stands at Windsor Park, hailed it as a "great night for football".

Referring to the host nation for the 2016 championships, he tweeted: "Anyone for France next year?", before adding: "Unbelievable result for the republic too! Great night for the island of Ireland, north and south. Hopefully see both teams in France next yr."

World champion boxer Carl Frampton, who was also cheering on from the south Belfast stadium sidelines, said the players had made him feel proud of home.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter to convey congratulations.

He said: "Huge congratulations to Northern Ireland on qualifying for the European Championships for the first time."

Democratic Unionist first minister Peter Robinson said: "Tremendous result and achievement. Huge congratulations to Michael O'Neill and team. Great night for Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Incredible night for Irish football, congrats Martin and Michael O'Neill (managers) & both teams. Beating the world champions in Dublin so amazing."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers also praised the team.

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