Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Northern Ireland players need to learn fast

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

Life's a beach: Northern Ireland players Chris Brunt and Chris Baird take a walk on the beach in Tel Aviv ahead of tonight's match against Israel

There are stereotypes attached to many aspects of life in Northern Ireland. The history of the country is almost defined by them.

Without going into too much depth – after all, this is the Sport section of the Belfast Telegraph, not News – those who are hit with stereotypical labels are, almost always, trying hard to get rid of them.

It's not that easy though.

Just look back at the fortunes of our football team over the last two months.

First there was the memorable 1-0 win over Russia back in August. A few weeks later Portugal were 2-1 down with just 10 men and only when Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty were sent off did the world class talent of Cristiano Ronaldo shine as he bagged a hat-trick inside 15 minutes to turn the game around.

Those encouraging displays have been followed by a 3-2 defeat to Luxembourg – who hadn't won a home World Cup qualifier since the early 1970s – and last Friday's 2-0 defeat in Azerbaijan wasn't much better.

Should we really have shook our heads in surprise though? It's just typical of Northern Ireland.

For decades the team has punched above its weight against the big boys and delivered many memorable results, yet been left red faced against the minnows.

The lessons of past and present haven't been heeded, but the current group of players must learn fast.

It's not good enough to just say 'oh that's what you get with Northern Ireland.'

Like in the country as a whole attitudes and mindsets must chance otherwise we'll always be 'typical Norn Iron.'

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