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The waiting is over... it's time for Northern Ireland to defy the naysayers and show the rest of Europe what we're made of

Published 11/06/2016

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis

At last all the speculation and talk is over and the Euro 2016 tournament is under way, with Northern Ireland due to play their first match tomorrow against Poland.

For a country the size of Northern Ireland, with its very limited player pool, to be even at the tournament is a tremendous result. That they topped their group in qualifying shows the resilience, tactical awareness and skill of the team and their manager. All those attributes will be sorely tested in the coming days when they take on Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany, but reputations have never meant anything to Northern Ireland players, and especially the current squad.

Of course they will be underdogs but the players, the management and the thousands of passionate fans who make up the Green and White Army will care not a jot what the pundits say or think - the players will do their talking on the field.

There is mounting excitement as kick-off approaches and the team gets to pit its skills against the best in Europe in the finals for the first time.

The side probably has wider support across Northern Ireland now than for many decades. Success is part of the reason but so too are the efforts of the IFA to broaden the fan base.

And the feelgood factor has been increased by the appearance of the Republic of Ireland at the finals, given that they also have a Northern Ireland-born manager.

Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill are the men charged with bringing glory to football on both sides of the border. Both have done very well to date and they could see their status soar.

This is a glorious feast of football for the fans, and the Northern Ireland supporters are not only among the most loyal in the world, but also the most liked. Compare them to the English fans who are already causing trouble in France.

Let us hope that the Green and White Army has plenty to cheer about during the coming weeks.

Belfast Telegraph

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