Belfast Telegraph

Jonny Evans keen for Northern Ireland to prove staying power at Euro 2016

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Jonny Evans has no intention of going home early from France and believes defensive stability and resilience can help the team prolong their stay at the Euro 2016 finals.

Fresh from Saturday's 0-0 draw in Slovakia and a third clean sheet in a row, Michael O'Neill's squad arrived at their base for the tournament in Lyon yesterday with hopes high that they can make a major impact.

West Brom star Evans had a fine game in a three-man defence alongside club mate Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart at the weekend before the Watford ace was replaced as a precaution in the first-half by Aaron Hughes, who was winning his 100th cap.

"The pleasing thing is that we showed real resilience," said Evans.

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"We were under a lot of pressure and found it hard to get out in the second-half, but they are a good side.

"The biggest positive we can take from it is that we were fighting for each other and there was a determination not to concede and lose the game.

"We've only conceded one goal in recent games and that was a penalty (against Wales). That's a great foundation to have going into a major tournament.

"We feel comfortable as a defensive unit.

"We've done a lot of work as a team on shape and put in a lot of preparation. The manager takes great credit for that.

"Sometimes people can be lazy about that (aspect of training), and it's not always the most enjoyable thing to do, but as a team we're reaping the rewards of that work.

"Every good side is good without the ball and it's something that's often overlooked in football.

"In order to get results at the top level, you have to be good defensively and it doesn't always come from a back four.

"Defences get a lot of credit when you keep clean sheets and get slated when you don't, but football is a team game and a lot of teams now defend from the front with high pressure.

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"Sometimes that's down to centre forwards putting the work in and we're thankful for that.

"Of course, we can still work on a few things this week, our game on the ball and maybe show a little more composure at times.

"We'll watch the video back and learn from it, but we'll feel very confident heading into the tournament.

"It was surreal when we got into our base camp. That's when it started to hit a few of the lads how big a thing this is.

"It's nice to unpack our suitcases and settle in one place and I hope all the lads embrace it.

"Hopefully we'll be here longer than we're booked in for. That's our plan."

Evans paid tribute to the professionalism of centurion Hughes adding that in his time as an international he had learnt much from the 36-year-old.

"I'm proud to have played on the same team as Aaron," said the ex-Manchester United defender.

"He's such a good professional and person. He's also a really good player.

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"I learned so much from him as a youngster when I first came into the squad.

"He had a different style of defending that I'd never seen before.

"I have an image in my head of Aaron the way he played. I remember playing alongside him at centre-back one time and the way he was leading the line.

"He's not the biggest talker or a loud person, but he always led by example and that's something I've carried with me.

"He helped me through my early games and I remember I shared a room with him on my second trip - I think it was to Denmark away. He looked after me. He's such a professional."

A small band of supporters made the trip to Slovakia. There will be thousands more in France and Evans can't wait to hear the Green and White Army roar.

"It's going to be fantastic," he said.

"We know as a country we'll be represented really well. We have some unbelievable supporters and fans who have travelled all around Europe.

"There weren't too many in Slovakia but that's understandable because it's a big cost (going to France) and we know they're going to be behind us.

"They've always had a great reputation and are well received wherever they go, so that's something they should be proud of. As players, we're proud of that too."

Belfast Telegraph