Boyce: Nothing will stop us now on road to Euro 2016
Former Fifa Vice-President Jim Boyce has boldly predicted Northern Ireland WILL qualify for the Euro 2016 finals and with something to spare.
While Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill and his players are thinking no further than Saturday night's eagerly anticipated top of the table Group F clash with Romania at Windsor Park, Boyce has been so impressed with Kyle Lafferty and co in the campaign to date that he is convinced that this time next year they will be in France.
O'Neill's men have won four out of their five matches and are currently in second place just one point behind leaders Romania and four ahead of third placed Hungary. The top two countries automatically qualify and Northern Ireland are well placed to do so.
Not since the 1986 World Cup finals have Northern Ireland qualified for a major tournament.
How the man known as 'Boyce the Voice' wants to see that gap breached.
Over the past fortnight he has spoken much about the controversies surrounding Fifa and their departing President Sepp Blatter. He admits he has found it difficult seeing the game he loves dragged through the mud.
When he speaks about Northern Ireland's prospects of qualification for next year's Euro finals, however, his face lights up.
"I genuinely believe we will qualify," he said.
"I know Michael and his players have to take one game at a time, but the way the group is and the brilliant start we have made leads me to believe that we will do it and we will make it to France. I think Northern Ireland and Romania will be the two teams that qualify automatically from the group."
Boyce, in his various roles with Uefa and Fifa, has attended numerous big football tournaments and insists that an appearance from Northern Ireland in France would bring much to the competition.
"It has been a long time since Northern Ireland qualified for the finals of a major tournament. I remember back in 1982 and 1986 that it brought the whole country together. It would be great for the country to get to a major tournament again. I also believe it would be great for the European Championship finals next year for Northern Ireland to be in France," he stated.
"I know our fans would travel in their thousands and create a fantastic atmosphere wherever they went and I also believe our players would really appreciate being there and relish giving their all in a tournament. Northern Ireland would be a breath of fresh air for the Euro 2016 finals."
In his previous role as Irish FA President Boyce had to appoint Northern Ireland managers. He had nothing to do with O'Neill coming on board but that has not stopped the former Cliftonville chairman from admiring what the current boss has achieved after a tough start to the job.
"Michael had a very difficult start to his Northern Ireland managerial career, but it is a heck of a difference managing Shamrock Rovers to coming in and taking charge of a national team.
"What he has done is brought a fantastic spirit to the camp. He has the players playing like a club team and as friends which is very important to Northern Ireland.
"You only have to hear what the players say about him to see how much they respect him and how much they want to do well for him."
While from a pure footballing point of view it would be magical for the manager, players and fans to make it to France, Boyce is well aware that for the Irish FA the financial implications of qualification would be huge.
"Reaching the finals financially from the IFA's point of view the mind boggles," he says.
"They would receive a phenomenal amount of money. I think the figure last time around for Euro qualification was around £8 million so they could expect that or even more this time around. Financially it would be a godsend to the IFA."
Boyce's time as Fifa Vice-President, in which he served Northern Ireland with dignity and class, came to an end last month at the organisation's Congress. He still has Uefa duties to attend to, though expects to finish on July 20 when he is due to present the trophy at the Under 19 European finals in Greece.
"I have had a wonderful time but the time is right to call it a day and spend more time with my family," says Boyce (pictured).
"I have been very privileged. Without Cliftonville Football Club, where I have been for 64 years, and obviously my time as President of the IFA I would never have had the opportunities that came my way. I am very proud to come from Northern Ireland and have always tried to represent the country in the best possible way."
Beacom's 15 to 1
15. Is there one sporting moment you would like to experience all over again? The night that I will never forget when I was on the pitch after Northern Ireland beat England at Windsor Park in 2005 after so many years of trying. It was an unbelieavble feeling.
14. Is there one moment in your career you would like to erase? The night of the election at the IFA (when Jim was effectively ousted at IFA President)
13. Which one sports star inspires you? I have the utmost respect for the people of this province who have put us in the right light on a world stage. People like Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Carl Frampton who have given our country a tremendous image abroad.
12. What one sportsperson would you like to spend a day with? Jose Mourinho. I think he is fantastic. Love him or hate him you can’t take away his record and when you listen to him you can’t help but be inspired. I would love to sit down and have a good chat with him.
11. What one sports event would you like to see? My second biggest love is cricket and I would love to go to the final of the World Cup in cricket.
10. What’s your favourite country to visit? That’s a difficult one because I have been lucky enough to visit many countries. The one I would go for is Bermuda. I have been there twice in a cricket capacity. It is a beautiful place I haven’t taken my wife to, but in time I would love to do that.
9. What’s the best decision you ever made? (Long pause) The County Antrim Football Association came to me in 1993 and asked me to run for the Vice-Presidency of the Irish Football Association. There were good friends of mine running that night, like Ivan Marshall sadly departed, and Morton McKnight and to be honest I wasn’t going to do it. Several people came to me and said ‘look the County Antrim Football Association feel you should be the person to go forward as the Vice-President of the IFA, hopefully to become President of the IFA, it was a unanimous decision of all the members’ and on the back of that I changed my mind and was elected as Vice-President. Without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.
8. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to any young sports star? The most important thing is to be open and honest with people.
7. What’s the one thing you love about sport? The buzz of it. I have been to many big matches over the years, but my biggest buzz still comes from sitting on the wall at Solitude and watching Cliftonville on a Saturday. Even when I am away in business around the world I like to find out the result. Irish League football is very important to me. I think it has helped bring people together. When I was awarded the OBE I dedicated it to the people of Northern Ireland who kept football going here through horrendous times.
6. What one rule would you change in sport? The offside rule in football. It needs to be carefully looked at because many spectators do not fully understand that rule. The powers that be need to look at it very seriously.
5. What one song do you like to listen to? I have been very lucky to be happily married to Hazel for 46 years. We have known each other for 52 years and I suppose Dickie Rock’s From the Candy Store on the Corner is a song we used to dance to and when I hear it I still enjoy it, so I’ll go for that.
4. What is the one TV show you don’t like to miss? I’m not a TV addict, but the one programme I truly enjoy is Match of the Day. I still try to avoid scores in the Premier League so that I can watch it without knowing who won the games. I enjoy it more that way. Even if I’m out on a Saturday night with Hazel, I will record it.
3. The one person you would like to play you in a movie? (Laughs) Jamie Dornan! (laughs again.. even louder). One of my sister’s best friends is Jim Dornan, Jamie’s dad. Jamie has put Northern Ireland on the map. He will do for me. (more laughs).
2. What one wish would you like to make true? There are three. I would dearly wish to see Northern Ireland qualify for another major finals and I honestly do believe we will do it for the Euro 2016 finals. I would love to go to France as honorary President of the IFA and go to see my country in the Euro finals. Another is for my team Cliftonville to win a few more league titles. And the other, which is the most important, is for my wife, myself and my family to have health and happiness for as long as we can have it together.
1. What is the one thing that makes you happiest? Spending time with my family. My wife has had to put up with me doing a lot of travelling and now it is time for me to give some time back to Hazel and my family and that’s what I intend doing.