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Euro 2016: Three is the magic number for Chris Brunt on landmark night

By Stuart McKinley

Published 12/06/2015

Fifty up: Chris Brunt reaches a landmark of appearances for Northern Ireland tomorrow night
Fifty up: Chris Brunt reaches a landmark of appearances for Northern Ireland tomorrow night

Chris Brunt is playing the numbers game ahead of what is arguably the biggest game of his career.

Northern Ireland's No.11 will line up against Romania at Windsor Park with his sights firmly set on qualification for Euro 2016.

Having collected 12 points from their opening five games in the group, Michael O'Neill's men are on course to claim one of the top two places which would book a trip to France next summer.

The one blip on the record came against the Romanians in Bucharest last November.

Brunt will win his 50th cap when Northern Ireland go for revenge tomorrow night, but that isn't the most important number on his mind.

"It is something you don't think about too much when you start playing; you think that if you get to 50 caps you'd be delighted," said the West Bromwich Albion man.

"Not many have reached that landmark and it will be a proud moment. I know that traditionally players have been given the honour of captaining the team on their 50th cap, but that hasn't been discussed and it's not something I am overly fussed about.

"Steven Davis is the captain and I'm happy with that.

"I'm just proud to be out there and to get 50 caps, it doesn't have to be marked with an armband.

"As long as we get three points that will do me."

Brunt admits that international careers are defined by the number of appearances at major tournaments.

In the history of Northern Ireland those have been few and far between. So long ago was Northern Ireland's last World Cup that less than half of the current squad were even born and the European Championships remain uncharted territory - for now anyway.

Thoughts are turning towards spending a couple of weeks in France next summer and that would surpass the achievements of the famous wins against England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Slovenia that Brunt was involved in during the early days of his international career.

"That will be the pinnacle for all of us. We've never qualified for a European Championship before and it would be nice to be in the first squad of Northern Ireland players to get there.

"Some of us have been around for a long time without getting much success out of it.

"We've had some good individual nights - and some bad ones as well.

"That's the nature of international football and if we can go the whole way and get to the finals next year it would be a great achievement for us as a nation.

"For the players individually it would be great to have something when you are looking back in 10 or 15 years at your international career to say you played in a major tournament."

As well as those glory nights that edged the team close to the Euro 2008 finals and into contention for a place at the 2012 World Cup, there have been many others that have smacked of 'typical Northern Ireland'.

Some weren't that long ago and when you remember that in the 2014 World Cup series there were draws at home to Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, followed by away defeats against the same opposition, it makes what has happened over the last 10 months even more special.

For Brunt, however, things are unlikely to ever change for the Green and White Army.

"The way things have been, you get sucked in with a couple of decent results and you start to think 'here we go' and then we've had a few kicks in the teeth. That's the way it's been for us," he said.

"This campaign hasn't been like that and hopefully we can keep it going and be successful.

There have been so many ups and downs and a lot of the nights have been pretty low as well.

"I don't think we were a million miles away in the last campaign. It's easy to say we were unlucky, but I genuinely believe that we were. We were unlucky in a lot of things. Against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan at home we probably had 100 shots in those games and only scored two goals.

"At the end of the day if you don't put the ball in the net you don't win the game and we probably did that to a lot of teams as well and then got a result out of it.

"It's probably finding the balance between being that team and being a team that is trying to win games. I think we've done that better this campaign.

Belfast Telegraph

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