Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Martin O'Neill can look to Northern Ireland in 1996 for inspiration

Telegraph Sport: where the debate really gets started

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, Martin O'Neill talked about facing up to the mighty Germans in their own back yard.

It would have been easy to scoff at the Ulsterman who, earlier this year, was handed the task of hauling the Republic of Ireland team back into contention for major tournaments.

Of course everyone with a brain knows what's going to happen when the boys in green step onto the pitch at Gelsenkirchen in October.

6-0, 7-0? Or might it even be double figures? Surely the Irish aren't going to trouble the supremely gifted, newly-crowned world champions.

But if he's looking for inspiration prior to that Euro 2016 qualifier, Martin could do worse than recall a certain match 18 years ago.

November 9, and over 40,000 Germans had rallied in Nuremberg (see what I did there?) to greet the recently crowned Euro '96 champions – and of course to watch them tank little Northern Ireland.

The result of that World Cup qualifier? Germany 1, Northern Ireland 1.

Not only that, but Berti Vogts' men – featuring world-class players such as Jurgen Klinsmann, Andy Moller, Stefan Reuter and Thomas Hassler – even had to come from behind after defender Gerry Taggart had scored for the visitors.

Afterwards, team-mate Barry Hunter walked towards myself and a few other media folk who had gathered at the side of the pitch in a fast-emptying stadium and uttered those immortal five words: "What about our wee country?"

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