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Michael O'Neill's stock and profile is on a sharp rise after heroic Northern Ireland Euro qualification campaign

By Steven Beacom

Published 04/11/2015

Fine form: Michael O’Neill has plenty to smile about
Fine form: Michael O’Neill has plenty to smile about

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill is on the X-Factor this weekend. It is Simon Cowell's latest attempt to stop the slide in the show's ratings. This one might actually work as everything else O'Neill touches turns to gold at the moment.

Okay, before you tune in expecting to see Michael beside Cheryl on the judging panel, that's a joke, but what isn't is the continuing rise of O'Neill's football profile.

Today he is due to announce his squad for the November 13 friendly at Windsor Park against Latvia.

That means more media duties for the 46-year-old who is becoming used to dealing with regular interview requests from television shows and UK-wide newspapers.

The media over here has been interested in O'Neill since his appointment as national team boss, but thanks to him inspiring Northern Ireland to Euro 2016, he has become major news elsewhere.

Earlier this week, he was interviewed by one of the Daily Mail's big hitters, Ian Ladyman. Before that, a host of other English and Scottish newspapers were in touch. Even a Far East magazine has covered O'Neill and Northern Ireland's story.

The closer we get to France, the more other sports writers from around the globe will want a piece of the Ballymena man.

Then there's the TV companies. At the weekend, Michael was a pundit for Sky Sports on their coverage of Hibs v Rangers. Before that, he was on BT Sport's Fletch and Sav.

All the while he has come across as an intelligent, articulate guy who knows the game. This profile isn't just good for O'Neill, it boosts the Northern Ireland team and IFA, ready to offer him a new four-year contract.

It's also worth noting that chairmen and directors of clubs across the water will be reading and watching what O'Neill has had to say. They will have been impressed.

50 ........ The Kop's last stand(v Germany 29/05/1996)
The star studded German team had been using Northern Ireland as a training base for Euro 96 in England and the game at Windsor was supposed to provide them with a comfortable friendly win en route to their march to glory at Wembley. The Germans didn't reckon on the Windsor experience however as they missed not one, but two first half penalties. Jurgan Klinsmann (pictured above) dragged his wide and then Andreas Moller smashed his over the bar much to the delight of those in the Spion Kop who were standing there for the last time before the famous end behind the goal was to be filled with seats. George O'Boyle broke the deadlock and while the Germans levelled late on, it didn't take away from what proved to be an incredible evening.
50 ........ The Kop's last stand(v Germany 29/05/1996) The star studded German team had been using Northern Ireland as a training base for Euro 96 in England and the game at Windsor was supposed to provide them with a comfortable friendly win en route to their march to glory at Wembley. The Germans didn't reckon on the Windsor experience however as they missed not one, but two first half penalties. Jurgan Klinsmann (pictured above) dragged his wide and then Andreas Moller smashed his over the bar much to the delight of those in the Spion Kop who were standing there for the last time before the famous end behind the goal was to be filled with seats. George O'Boyle broke the deadlock and while the Germans levelled late on, it didn't take away from what proved to be an incredible evening.
49 ...... Love affair with Healy begins (v Yugoslavia 16/08/2000) Northern Ireland fans have had a long lasting love affair with David Healy and this is when it began at Windsor Park with the man from Killyleagh netting his first home goal for his country in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Yugoslavia. It was a typical clever finish by Healy, nipping in behind the visiting defence to collect a Jeff Whitley through ball before calmly slotting the ball between the goalkeeper's legs and into the net. Fittingly, Healy's first at Windsor came at the Kop end, beginning a trend that happily was to continue for years to come.
48 ..... Quinn's breathtaking blockbuster (v Belgium 11/02/1997) This was the wet and windy night at Windsor when Belgian superstar Enzo Scifo was supposed to run the show but he was overshadowed by a young man called James Quinn, namesake of another Northern Ireland striker. Quinn opened the scoring with a simply stunning effort. He shrugged off a challenge to make the ball his own before striding towards the danger area and unleashing a 25-yard right foot thunderbolt that rocketed into the top corner. It was a goal of breathtaking quality and gave the home side the confidence to go on and enjoy a convincing friendly victory with Jim Magilton's penalty and Philip Mulryne adding to Quinn's long distance beauty.
47 ...... Sammy's finest hour|(v Spain 11/06/2003) Sammy McIlroy was an excellent player for Northern Ireland (right) but it's widely considered that he was an unlucky manager for his country. There was one night at Windsor (above) though that he fondly remembers as boss when Northern Ireland gave a top-class Spanish side a fright with a 0-0 draw in a European Championship qualifier that the home team deserved to win. As McIlroy left the field, he received a heartfelt ovation that he still cherishes to this day.
46 ..... Billy starts all over again|(v Scotland 16/05/1980) Billy Bingham (above) had been Northern Ireland manager before. This 1-0 British Championship success over Scotland started his second spell in charge — one that would lead to Bingy guiding the team to TWO World Cup finals. There were also TWO British Championships, the first of these in 1980 sparked by Billy Hamilton's winning goal against the Scots.
45 ...... STU'S LATE, LATE SHOW (V AUSTRIA 13/10/2004) Despite a spectacular goal from David Healy and a welcome first international strike by Colin Murdock, it looked as though Northern Ireland were going to lose this World Cup qualifier with Austria 3-2. Lawrie Sanchez's side piled on the pressure and it told in front of the Kop with substitute Stuart Elliott (above) bundling the ball and the Austrian goalkeeper into the net in the 94th minute following a mad scramble. The ground erupted in a wall of noise as Elliott celebrated a magical moment that earned Northern Ireland a 3-3 draw.
44 ...... Fans savour Boruc's blunder (v Poland 28/03/09) Even before this Saturday night World Cup qualifier there was a hostile atmosphere inside Windsor with many of the songs directed towards Celtic's Artur Boruc in the Polish goal. With a baying Kop behind him, Boruc lost the plot when a back pass bobbled over his foot and into the net drawing deafening celebrations and laughter from the home fans. Goals from Warren Feeney (above) and Jonny Evans helped Northern Ireland to win 3-2.
43 .... Hello to Bestie and big Pat (v Uruguay 29/04/1964) George Best is the greatest player ever to play for Northern Ireland and Pat Jennings the iconic goalkeeper who has played for our wee country more times than anyone else. The pair of them (below) made their home international debuts on the same night against Uruguay in a 3-0 friendly victory in which Pat kept a clean sheet and Bestie showed glimpses of his genius. A Johnny Crossan double and a third from Samuel Wilson saw off the South Americans.
42 .... Stormin' Norman at the double (v Turkey 01/05/85) Norman Whiteside, the youngest ever World Cup finals player, was already a huge hero at Windsor and that status was enhanced against Turkey when he illustrated his class and strength by powering in two headers to defeat the visitors. It was a victory inspired by Whiteside which helped Billy Bingham's side reach the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. This qualifier is also remembered for being the final competitive appearance at Windsor for goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings, who as usual shone between the sticks.
41 ...... Bestie against Cruyff (v Holland 12/10/1977) In the previous two matches at Windsor Park 15,000 fans turned up. This time the place was packed with 33,000 all flooding into the ground to see a match up between legendary figures George Best and Johan Cruyff in this World Cup qualifier. In the corresponding fixture in Holland, Best had given a masterclass and even nutmegged Cruyff. The Northern Ireland fans were looking for more of the same. Both players showed flashes of their class as Holland, who also included Rudi Krol and Johnny Rep in their side, won 1-0. Their goal came minutes after Cruyff had been substituted in a game that turned out to be the 37th and last time Best played for Northern Ireland.
40 ...... The Doog delivers (v Scotland 02/10/1965) Some fans will tell you that Derek Dougan missed too many chances playing for Northern Ireland, but this was a match that saw the big striker score and give Scotland a tough time. Having been out of the international reckoning for a few years, Dougan returned in style to hit the net in this British Championship meeting. Old team-mates say it was one of his favourite moments in an eventful career. The Windsor faithful enjoyed it too and the goals from Willie Irvine and Johnny Crossan that led to a compelling 3-2 victory.
39 ...... Sir Stan upstaged by our Jimmy (v England 06/10/56)
When England arrived in Belfast in late 1956 they did so with a team many thought at the time would have a chance of success in the World Cup two years later. Billy Wright and Duncan Edwards were the stand out performers and then there was an ageing Stanley Matthews. Northern Ireland weren't so bad themselves as they would illustrate at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. This British Championship match turned out to be a real tight affair with Matthews creating history, which still stands to this day, becoming England's oldest goalscorer at 41 years and 248 days. He would not have the last word though with the brilliant Jimmy McIlroy equalising.
38 ...... Harry's game.. the last one (v Scotland 12/10/1963) Harry Gregg will forever be regarded as one of the greatest players Northern Ireland has ever had. He was an inspirational goalkeeper for the great Peter Doherty's outstanding side that reached the World Cup finals in 1958 and was seen as a true Windsor Park hero. It was fitting then that his last international appearance at the ground ended in a victory. Taking on Scotland in the British Championship, Gregg, winning his 24th cap out of 25, made vital saves as Northern Ireland won 2-1.
37 THE Super show from THE super subs (v Denmark 25/10/1978) The Kop couldn't quite believe what they were seeing in this European Championship qualifier at Windsor Park. Trailing 1-0 to Denmark, Derek Spence (pictured) came off the bench to equalise before running away to celebrate wildly with his mop of blonde hair blowing in the wind. Minutes later Spence was substituted himself due to injury to be replaced by Trevor Anderson who repeated the supersub trick heading home a late winner. Anderson was as overjoyed as Spence to score completing a fabulous turnaround.
36 ...... Paddy whacks them (v Faroe Islands 10/08/2011) The opposition may only have been the Faroe Islands but it didn't seem to matter on the night that Paddy McCourt announced himself at Windsor as a player with immense skill. It was already a memorable night before Paddy's brilliance took centre stage thanks to Aaron Hughes scoring his long awaited first international goal and Steve Davis smashing home a long range effort. With the visiting defence just wanting to get off the pitch, McCourt piled on the pain with two wonderful goals. The first was a powerful shot into the roof of the net after playing a neat one-two and the second proved to be one of the finest individual strikes ever at the ground with McCourt finishing a mazy with a sublime chip in the 4-0 win. Officially this was a European Championship qualifier but everyone knows it as the Paddy McCourt show.
35 Martin's a winner (v Romania 12/09/1984)
Northern Ireland had qualified for and excelled at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain and were determined to be at the big show again in 1986. A winning goal against Romania from Martin O'Neill proved crucial in that aim. It was a cracking effort too – a half volley which fizzed into the net to give Billy Bingham's men a crucial third on the night. Earlier an own goal and a classy effort from Norman Whiteside had put Northern Ireland in control but it was O'Neill's strike that confirmed the victory, which did indeed set Bingham and his boys on their way to the finals in Mexico.
34 ...... Healy beats Schmeichel (v Denmark 07/10/2000) Windsor Park fans have witnessed their fair share of magnificent goalkeepers over the years including our own Harry Gregg and Pat Jennings, though some would say that Peter Schmeichel is the finest to play at the famous old ground. The great Dane could do nothing to stop David Healy though in this World Cup qualifier. Healy had scored a few goals against Schmeichel in training when they were both at Manchester United, but none compared to the stunning 30 yard drive that whistled past the big man and into the net. Denmark levelled later in the game though nothing took away from Healy's wonder goal.
33 ...... Thriller in the Park (v England 04/10/1958) There have been some classic moments at Windsor Park and some classic matches and this belongs in the latter category. What a game this British Championship encounter with England turned out to be with an incredible 58,000 people turning up to see a gripping 3-3 draw. Northern Ireland took the lead three times but England just kept coming back and by the finish nothing could separate them. Wilbur Cush (pictured), Bertie Peacock and Tom Casey netted for the home side with Bobby Charlton (twice) and Tom Finney replying for the away team.
32 ...... Bestie stuck in the mud (v Scotland 18/04/1970) Over 30,000 had come to see one man... his name George Best. They were to be disappointed with the finest Northern Ireland player being sent off in this British Championship encounter with Scotland. Being Bestie it wasn't just any old sending off... it was a little bit different. Five minutes after Scotland scored in their 1-0 win, Northern Ireland's superstar footballer was dismissed for throwing mud from the Windsor pitch at referee Eric Jennings. It was an astonishing moment that left the fans looking on in disbelief.
31 ...... Lennon being booed (v Norway 28/02/2001) This was a low point at Windsor Park that became a turning point for Northern Ireland fans. Neil Lennon had signed for Celtic and in his first home international, a friendly against Norway, since joining the Hoops a small section of Northern Ireland supporters booed his every touch. He was taken off at half-time. He returned to play for Northern Ireland but 18 months later received a death threat ahead of another Belfast friendly. Lennon quit international football after that. It was a horrible period but it marked a change in attitude in the stands as the vast majority of fans gave their support to the Irish FA's Football For All campaign. Later the fans would win awards from Uefa for being the 'best supporters in Europe'.
30 ...... Colin becomes top man (v Albania 09/09/92) Billy Gillespie's goalscoring record had stayed intact for nearly 70 years until Colin Clarke (left) stepped up in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Albania to join him at the top of the list. Clarke opened the scoring early on sliding the ball home. It was his 13th goal for Northern Ireland equalling Gillespie's long standing tally. It turned out to be a successful night all round with Kevin Wilson and Jim Magilton also on target in a comfortable victory.
29 ...... Jimmy Nic's smasher (v Sweden 15/10/1980) The Northern Ireland fans were already celebrating when one of their favourite sons raced forward to score a belter. Noel Brotherston and Sammy McIlroy had netted early on in this World Cup qualifier when right-back Jimmy Nicholl found himself in the middle of the pitch in the first half. He controlled the ball with his right foot and then smacked an unstoppable shot with his left into the Kop net sending the fans crazy. It was Jimmy Nic's only international goal in 73 appearances and an absolute beauty in a memorable 3-0 win.
28 ...... World Champions in town (v England 22/10/1966) There was a carnival atmosphere inside Windsor for this British Championship game which also doubled up as a European Championship qualifier. It was England's first match after their famous World Cup triumph and Sir Alf Ramsey selected the same starting XI that defeated West Germany at Wembley in the final with Bobby Moore captaining the side. England were too strong, winning 2-0 with goals from Roger Hunt and Martin Peters in a fixture that saw Linfield's Billy Ferguson sent off after fouling Alan Ball. Ferguson was the first Northern Ireland player to be red carded and the first player to be sent off in a British Championship match.
27 ...... Terry and Gerry show (v Portugal 29/04/81) The build-up to this World Cup qualifier with Portugal was bizarre with the Irish Cup final at Windsor postponed after a torrential storm to preserve the pitch for the international. It worked in Northern Ireland's favour when in the first half the slow surface and the sheer determination of Terry Cochrane kept the ball in play when it looked to be going out. Then Cochrane delivered the perfect cross for Gerry Armstrong to rise high and head the winning goal. It was a crucial effort in Northern Ireland's successful bid to reach the 1982 World Cup finals.
26 ...... Bestie's hat-trick (v Cyprus 21/04/1971)
Incredibly for all his outrageous ability, George Best scored just nine times for Northern Ireland and three of those came in this European Championship qualifier against Cyprus. Best was buzzing as he netted the only international hat-trick of his career. The goals proved to be his last for Northern Ireland despite winning 12 more caps.
25 ...... Farewell Danny boy (v Poland 28/11/1962) Danny Blanchflower was the captain of the legendary 1958 World Cup team and will always be considered a Northern Ireland great. He played 56 times for his country and this 2-0 European Championship victory over Poland turned out to be the last. Johnny Crossan and Billy Bingham netted the goals to ensure that Danny went out on a high.
24 ...... It's raining goals (v Austria 15/11/1995) It was wet and windy and it rained goals at Windsor as Northern Ireland beat Austria 5-3 in a remarkable European Championship clash. Michael O'Neill started and finished the scoring – his second a classy goal following a blistering run by the brilliant Michael Hughes. In between's O'Neill brace Iain Dowie with a penalty, Barry Hunter and Phil Gray found the net in what proved an entertaining end to the qualifying campaign.
23 ...... Goal drought ends (v Norway 18/02/2004) Normally when you lose 4-1 at home there would be a national outcry but not this time. Northern Ireland supporters left Windsor Park after this friendly against Norway with a spring in their step. Reason? The goal drought ended... you know the one that broke records and lasted for a bewildering 1298 minutes! It was Lawrie Sanchez's first match as manager and started the fans on an amazing roller coaster ride with him in charge. Trailing 3-0 and once again looking likely to fail in front of goal, Northern Ireland finally found the net when David Healy headed home a Keith Gillespie cross in front of the Kop. The fans continued cheering even when Norway scored straight from the kick-off to make it 4-1. It was that sort of crazy night.
22 ...... The Battle of Belfast (v Italy 04/12/1957) What an extraordinary encounter this was. Originally down as a World Cup qualifier, the referee was supposed to be Hungarian Istvan Zolt but his flight to Belfast was grounded due to fog. The IFA put English referee Arthur Ellis on standby, but with Italy becoming increasingly irked by the situation they refused the offer of a local referee to take charge and when Fifa intervened the World Cup qualifier was postponed until the next month with the December fixture turning into a friendly. When this news was broken to the 40,000 Northern Ireland fans, many of whom had taken a half day off work, there was outrage and the atmosphere became hostile towards the visitors. Once the game kicked off the Italian players lost the plot kicking and punching their opponents. Dual international Juan Schiaffino, an AC Milan great who won the 1950 World Cup with Uruguay, then smacked Wilbur Cush, who was known as the Little Iron Man from Lurgan. It proved to be a bad move with Cush getting his own back with the fiercest of tackles. Cush would go to score twice in a 2-2 draw. After the match ended the crowd invaded the pitch attacking the Italian players. Police had to baton-charge the crowd on the pitch to restore order. Thankfully the World Cup qualifier a month later proved a much happier occasion.
21 ...... Billy batters England (v England 15/02/1913) This British Championship match turned out to be a historic encounter with the Ireland team, before they became Northern Ireland, beating England for the first time. Billy Gillespie (right) was the hero scoring twice in a 2-1 victory. Gillespie went on to score 13 goals at international level, seven of those against England.
20 ...... Treble yell for McAdams (v West Germany 26/10/1960) This classic World Cup qualifier was one of the most dramatic games ever seen at Windsor Park with West Germany coming out on top 4-3, but only after being given an almighty fright by the brilliance of Billy McAdams. McAdams scored not once, not twice but three times becoming the first British player to score a hat-trick against West Germany, six years before Geoff Hurst repeated the trick for England in the World Cup final. After the match he famously said: “Losing the game took a little of the gilt off the gingerbread, but it was still a great personal achievement for me.”
19 ...... Healy's Euro record (v Denmark 17/11/2007) With the rain bucketing down there were fears this European Championship qualifier would be postponed. Thankfully it went ahead. Denmark took the lead before Warren Feeney equalised with a marvellous header. Then, as has been the case so many times at Windsor, David Healy took centre stage, scoring a spectacular chip to give Northern Ireland a 2-1 win and keep hopes of reaching the 2008 finals alive. Incredibly, it was Healy's 13th goal of the campaign — breaking the Euro qualifying record of 12 previously held by Croatia's Davor Suker.
18 ...... Sammy and Norman conquer Scots (v Scotland 13/12/1983) The now defunct British Championships are remembered fondly by Northern Ireland fans, especially as our wee country remain the holders of the trophy having won the last competition in 1984. The game that set Billy Bingham's team on their way to glory in that campaign was against Scotland with Sammy McIlroy (right) and Norman Whiteside on target in a 2-0 win. Big Norm's effort came from close range with Sammy smacking in a low drive from just inside the area. All four home nations ended up with three points but Northern Ireland took the trophy on goal difference.
17 ...... The remarkable comeback(v England 03/10/64) To those of a certain age this ranks as one of the finest games ever played at Windsor Park. The British Championship clash with England may have resulted in a 4-3 victory for the visitors, but talk about going down fighting! England, with Jimmy Greaves (pictured) on fire scoring a hat-trick, led 4-0 with just 30 minutes gone. Home fans were fearing the worst but then came a stirring second half comeback which saw Northern Ireland dominate. Samuel Wilson netted and then James McLaughlin scored a quickfire double. It was 4-3 with 25 minutes left. The home side roared forward and had chances but somehow England held on in a truly gripping contest.
16 ...... Lawrie goes out on top(v Sweden 28/03/2007) The Lawrie Sanchez era was electric for Northern Ireland fans with many glory nights at Windsor. This one turned out to be the last before Sanchez took over as manager of Fulham. As you would expect it was eventful. Sweden took the lead in the first half but minutes later David Healy turned and shot from the edge of the box to score with one of his trademark strikes. That was followed after the break by another magical Healy finish, deftly clipping home after Damien Johnson's excellent run and cross. Try as they might Sweden couldn't hit back with Stephen Craigan keeping highly rated Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his pocket to seal a riveting 2-1 win that took Northern Ireland to the top of their European Championship table. Had Sanchez stayed.. would we have qualified? We'll never know but we do know this match was a cracker.
15 ...... ‘Night in November’ (v Republic of Ireland 17/11/1993) The atmosphere was as hostile as you could get at Windsor with Northern Ireland fans desperate that their team would stop the Republic earning the draw they needed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Billy Bingham, in his last match as manager second time around, whipped up the crowd and the noise was never-ending. Unfortunately some of the songs were sectarian in their nature on a night of high tension. The roof nearly flew off following a series of atrocities in the lead-up, including the Shankill bomb and Greysteel massacres, when Jimmy Quinn smacked home a brilliant 25 yard volley to give the home side the lead. Back came the Republic late in the game to level through substitute Alan McLoughlin taking them to the finals. Later a play written by Marie Jones called ‘A Night in November' featuring the match won a host of awards.
14 ...... Ton up for big Pat Jennings (v Austria 21/09/1983) What a night this was for the one, the only, Pat Jennings. In this European Championship qualifier the big goalkeeper earned his 100th cap becoming the first and to date only player to reach that mark for Northern Ireland. The outfield players did not let him down in a 3-1 victory with Billy Hamilton, Norman Whiteside and Martin O'Neill all on target on a memorable night for a legendary sporting figure.
13 ...... First British title (v Scotland 14/03/1914) Having won in Wales and England previously, the Irish FA had a first British Championship success to savour when the Ireland team drew 1-1 with Scotland thanks to a Samuel Young (pictured below) goal. Reports from that time suggest there was much joy inside the ground that for the first time the nation had been crowned kings of British football. It would not be the last.
12 ...... Bestie and Banks (v England 15/05/1971) This British Championship match witnessed the most famous ‘goal' that never was. It remains one of the most talked incidents at Windsor Park. Banks, one of the greatest goalkeepers ever, had thrown the ball from his hand in order to kick it upfield. In the millisecond the ball was in the air razor sharp Best flicked it over the goalkeeper's head with his left foot and then the pair of them raced to the bouncing ball with the Northern Ireland legend getting there in front to head it into the net. The fans in the stadium cheered what they thought was another piece of genius by Georgie, only for the referee, having never seen such an act of trickery before, to disallow the goal. It was stunning moment, never to be forgotten.
11 ...... ‘Only Northern Ireland' beat Capello (v Russia 14/08/13) What a stunning 1-0 victory this was. Nobody thought Northern Ireland, after a poor run of results, had a chance against Fabio Capello's highly regarded Russian team but despite missing key players, Michael O'Neill's side stepped up to the mark and deserved this World Cup victory thanks to Martin Paterson cleverly heading home Niall McGinn's fine cross. It was O'Neill's first win at his 10th attempt as boss and made all the sweeter after Capello said before the corresponding fixture in Moscow that he wasn't calling up cover for injured stars as the opposition was 'only Northern Ireland!”
10 ...... First match... first win|(v Scotland 19/03/10) It was way back in the spring of 1910 when all this started as Ireland, before the team became Northern Ireland, played their first match at Windsor Park. It was in a British Championship clash against Scotland and happily the home side emerged victorious with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Frank Thompson.
9 ...... All-Ireland glory(v Republic of Ireland 21/11/1979) Any time Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have met there is great desire amongst the players and fans to come out on top. Gerry Armstrong (pictured) made sure north triumphed over south in this European Championship qualifier sparking wild celebrations around the ground. Incredibly Gerry's goal was the first scored in a game between the two countries and it also gave Northern Ireland their first victory over the Republic. This was also Danny Blanchflower’s last game as Northern Ireland manager.
8 ...... Happy returns (v Yugoslavia 16/04/1975) In the early 1970s the Northern Ireland team became footballing nomads. Due to the Troubles, international teams did not want to come to Belfast forcing Northern Ireland to play their ‘home' games in various venues across England. Then after a gap of four years, to Yugoslavia's credit they agreed to play at Windsor in this European Championship qualifier paving the way for others to follow suit. Northern Ireland won the game 1-0 with Bryan Hamilton (pictured) scoring. While the victory was welcome, it was even better that our boys had finally returned home.
7 ...... Stewart beats the Germans (v West Germany 17/11/1982) Think Ian Stewart and his winning goal in front of a packed Windsor against mighty West Germany springs to mind. Stewart (pictured) collected the ball wide and then jinked inside before firing a low diagonal drive into the net. For a second it seemed as if time stood still when the ball crossed the line in this European Championship qualifier. Stewart's goal gave Northern Ireland a famous 1-0 victory and inspired Billy Bingham's men to go to Hamburg later in the campaign and win again with Norman Whiteside scoring after a certain Ian Stewart caused havoc in the German defence.
6 ...... Healy stuns the Spanish|(v Spain 06/09/2006) It's amazing to think that a few days earlier Northern Ireland had lost 3-0 at home to Iceland. Then they pulled this result out of the fire thanks to the goalscoring instincts of David Healy. In this European Championship qualifier Spain led twice but Healy levelled twice. Windsor was rocking even before the Killyleagh man produced a magical lob to win the match 3-2 for the home side. It was one of the great nights. They may not have thought it at the time but it was also defining for Spain who after that defeat dropped Raul, pulled together more and have since gone on to dominate world football.
5 ...... Espana here we come|(v Israel 18/11/81) Windsor Park was bursting with 40,000 fans packed into the ground making so much noise you could have heard them in Tel Aviv! Northern Ireland needed to beat Israel to qualify for the 1982 World Cup finals. The pressure was on and typically Gerry Armstrong delivered. In the first half Jimmy Nicholl floated a free-kick into the area, Billy Hamilton headed down and Armstrong smacked the ball into the net with his left foot. It was a golden moment that won the match 1-0 and took Billy Bingham and his players to Spain, where of course Gerry scored another famous goal. After beating Israel the team did a lap of honour. All the fans stayed on to salute them. It was a night when nobody wanted to go home.
4 ...... Bestie at his Best (v Scotland 21/10/1967) This European Championship match in 1967 may have been decided by a Dave Clements goal, but it is only ever remembered for the mesmeric, magical, mystifying performance from the legendary George Best. This was one of the finest individual displays ever seen anywhere in the world. Best's balance, dribbling skills, invention and all round natural ability tortured the Scots so much so that none of their players wanted to be near him when he got the ball, as he continually made fools out of them. This was Best at his best.
3 ...... World in our hands (v Italy 15/01/1958) This World Cup qualifier took place a month after the Battle of Belfast (ranked 21 on our list) when Northern Ireland and Italy drew 2-2 in a game that was a friendly in name only. Perhaps scarred by that experience Italy struggled against a fired up Northern Ireland side determined to make history and reach the World Cup finals for the first time ever. The 50,000 passionate fans inside the stadium had a serious impact on the visitors too. Right from the start the home side were on top with Jimmy McIlroy and Wilbur Cush scoring before 30 minutes had gone. The Italians netted themselves in the second half, but Northern Ireland won 2-1 and to the joy of all in Windsor qualified for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where they continued to shine, reaching the quarter-finals!
2 ...... Healy's winner against England (v England 07/09/2005) England arrived for this World Cup qualifier with their ‘golden generation' of players including David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand. They left ashen-faced wondering what had hit them on the pitch and off it. With 74 minutes played, Steven Davis played a lovely pass into the path of David Healy who had broken clear. Racing towards goal he drilled a rocket right foot shot past Paul Robinson and into the net. Windsor erupted. King David had done it. After that Northern Ireland stood firm to clinch their first victory over England since 1972. Such were the celebrations after the game you would have thought Northern Ireland had won the World Cup! It was a truly glorious night.
1 ...... Northern Ireland qualify for Euro 2016 (v Greece 08/10/2015) Almost 30 years of hurt ended on one of the greatest nights Windsor Park has seen. A 3-1 win over Greece secured qualification for next summer's finals - our first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup. Minus the suspended Kyle Lafferty, Chris Baird and Conor McLaughlin plus the injured Jonny Evans, Michael O'Neill was forced to make changes for the biggest game of his life. But captain Steven Davis led by example, netting twice in a man of the match display which befitted his status of one of Northern Ireland's finest-ever players. We're off to France!

218 days to go!

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