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Friendlies don't fire us up, but do find us gems

By Steven Beacom

Published 05/11/2015

Bright: Conor McLaughlin is a star performer for Northern Ireland
Bright: Conor McLaughlin is a star performer for Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill has never won a friendly as Northern Ireland manager. His team have played seven away and two at home and the record reads: drawn three, lost six.

He doesn't care. Nor should we. Over the past 15 months O'Neill and his team have delivered when it matters and when points are at stake.

That's why they are going to the Euro 2016 finals.

Of course O'Neill would like to beat Latvia in next Friday's friendly at Windsor Park, but more important to him would be to see a squad player step up and show he can deliver at international level for when competitive fixtures come along.

He cites Fleetwood's Conor McLaughlin and Leeds United's Stuart Dallas as two examples of how friendlies have proved useful to the side.

"We have had many friendlies away from home including Chile, Uruguay, Turkey and Holland. You don't come back with four wins out of four from those types of places and very rarely did we have our full squad in any of those games," said O'Neill.

"I don't focus much on friendly results. I focus on where we got to with qualification. To me, even without winning them, our friendlies have served a purpose because we found Conor McLaughlin in South America last year and Stuart Dallas in Scotland earlier this year. Look how well they have done since.

"I would much rather find a player or two in friendlies rather than be able to say we won three friendlies out of four. If I really wanted to win friendlies I wouldn't have taken the games we have taken.

"In terms of our record in friendlies with the stadium being developed, we have been very restricted. It's over three years since we've had a home friendly. To be fair to the players, while the results haven't been hugely successful, what we have got from them has been successful."

Belfast Telegraph

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