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Alex Ferguson taught us to be united, says Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood

By Steven Beacom

Published 13/10/2015

Flying the flag: Oliver Norwood and Stuart Dallas celebrate in Helsinki
Flying the flag: Oliver Norwood and Stuart Dallas celebrate in Helsinki

Oliver Norwood has paid tribute to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson for the part he played in his development and that of the other ex-Manchester United stars in the Northern Ireland squad.

Paddy McNair is the only current United player in Michael O'Neill's panel but there are FIVE who learned their trade at Old Trafford and at the feet of the master to play a part in Northern Ireland's qualification for the Euro 2016 finals.

They are Norwood, who has the distinction of starting in all 10 games and the most minutes of any player during Northern Ireland's campaign, Craig Cathcart, who scored in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Finland, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans and Luke McCullough.

"It might sound silly but we were brought up properly. We worked under the regime of the best manager who's ever managed in football, Sir Alex Ferguson," said Norwood.

"What he passed through that club, to the youth team to every academy boy ... that's something we can look back on with pride. We were all together there and now we're all together here at Northern Ireland.

"We were brought up in a proper football club, training every day with world class players but they're just normal people.

"I don't think you'll ever see a 'big time Charlie' coming out of that Manchester United system because it's not allowed there."

Norwood started his international career with the country of his birth, England, playing for them at under-17 level before the Evans brothers asked him about joining up with Northern Ireland, which he was allowed to do under the grandparent rule.

"It's thanks to Corry and Jonny that I came aboard five or six years ago, and I'm grateful to them for tapping me up now," said the 24-year-old.

"It was very easy to be fair, it was a chance to play international football.

"It's a decision I'm really proud of and glad that I took."

On playing every single game in Northern Ireland's successful campaign, Norwood said: "It's something I'm personally very proud of. I've been available for every game and for the manager to pick me each time I must be doing something right.

"He's stuck by me, there's a trust and faith in me which is fantastic. I can't speak highly enough of him.

"I've played my fair share and I can enjoy the moment."

Right from the start of the group, Norwood was one of the players confident about making an impact in the Euro campaign, despite the team enduring nightmare time in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers winning just once in 10 games.

"Look back at our first game in Hungary, 1-0 down with 15, 16 mins to play ... we came back and won 2-1," he said.

"That made us realise in that dressing room that night we could achieve something.

"Hungary were one of the favourites for the top two spots so to go to their own back yard and beat them 2-1 was brilliant.

"Michael spoke about getting momentum at the start and we managed to do that.

"The togetherness in the squad and the camaraderie is important, we keep in touch all the time when we're away from each other.

"There's great team spirit and banter between us, everybody buys into what Michael wants to do and we're going to get the chance to play in a major tournament.

"That's what you dream of as young boy, watching those major tournaments on the TV. That's something we're going to be a part of now."

Belfast Telegraph

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