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Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece: Special ones gave us night to remember at Windsor Park

By Paul Ferguson

Allez les verts. Passports at the ready, the Green and White Army have been given official clearance to descend on France.

Last night at Windsor Park, Steven Davis started a party 30 years in the making. Josh Magennis, with his first international goal, made sure the festivities kept going long into the night and the inspirational captain may as well have written a sick note for every Northern Ireland fan in attendance for the rest of the week with his second and his country's third.

History has been made.

Northern Ireland are going to their first ever European Championship finals and boy did Michael O'Neill's men do it in style.

The optimism of the passionate and extremely loyal fans had been fulfilled. French flags flew all around the famous south Belfast venue which has witnessed so many special occasions.

This was right up there with the days of McParland, Best, Armstrong and Whiteside.

Unlike against Hungary last month, when there was nervous anticipation at Windsor Park before kick-off, there was a genuine belief that victory and a finals spot would be secured, despite boss O'Neill being without four key players and Greece having featured in the last 16 of the World Cup finals just under a year and half ago.

The 14 heroes on the pitch delivered and so emphatically. Take a bow along with Kyle Lafferty, Chris Baird, Conor McLaughlin and Jonny Evans in the stands.

For too long Northern Ireland has been forced to delve into its past for qualifying success. Not anymore.

The biggest crowd, 11,700, at the new look Windsor were in attendance to witness such an incredible feat - but it could have easily have so much more.

Fans who weren't lucky enough to have a golden ticket for the game, were queuing up at Northern Ireland friendly bars from early evening.

Four-time Major golf champion Rory McIlroy and huge NI fan IBF super-bantamweight world champion Carl Frampton were in attendance, but for once they were not the ones the fans wanted to see.

It was the men in green and the general Michael O'Neill who garnered all the attention.

Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Greece fans during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan waves the French flag during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Boxer Carl Frampton before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Carley Strong and Audrey McClements. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Ian Irwin Annette McCauley and Richie Irwin. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Jake Quinn and his dad Graham Quinn. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Warren Beatty, Laura Jane Kernaghan, Lee Finley, Gareth Mcquillan and Johnny McKinstry. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans get behind their team on the Lisburn road before the game. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Lee Leckey and Jonny Wylie at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fan Gareth McQuillan at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ian Bannatyne, Ryan Armstrong, Stuart Gowey, Gary Herron, Phil Bannatyne, Billy Rankin and Ian Morrow at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Adam Shilliday, Stuart Mclees, Trevor Henderson and Glen Muir at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ryan Weir, James Irwin and Peter Graham from Omagh at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Johnathan Irvine and Oliver Norwoods dad (right) before the match. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Northern Ireland fan Christian king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 08th October 2015 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland fans Christian king and George king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast.
Stephen Warke getting in the mood for Northern Ireland v Greece
Colin (@ards1985) via Twitter: watching hopefully later in sunny Orlando with @kirstywoo85
Actor Glenn Speers (@GlennSpeers) via Twitter: I'll be following score in my dressing room in The Commitments at The Palace Theatre London
Euro 2016 Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland legend David Healy watching the match with fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
J McLorn with his son David at Windsor Park. Pic: J McLorn
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during today's game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans George King with twin son's Mason and Christain before the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Charlotte Cummings with her father Paul and sister Zoe from Antrim. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mason King (12) with his father George King, twin brother Christian and Daren Leighton from Donegal Pass. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Ethan Gibson(14), Lewis Orr-McCauley(16), Mathew Gibson(12), Samantha Orr-McCauley(6) and Grant Orr-McCauley(11). Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland v Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Mark Paul with his son Rhys and Gary from Newtownabbey. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fan Daniel Gracey (5) Ballymoney during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Buddy and Mylo watching at home. Photo: Kristine Hill
David McLorn before going to Windsor Park. Photo: J McLorn
Rory Beattie (8 months) getting ready to watch the match. Photo: Linda Taylor
Husband and wife Neil and Lorainne Fentie are looking forward to the big match against Hungary at Windsor Park. Picture Matt Bohill.
Northern Ireland fans Matthew Kernaghan, James Abraham, Ryan Blakely and Ben Speers cant wait for the big match at Windsor Park. Photo: Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Little Jake Quinn who is to lead out the Hungarian national team at Windsor Park cheers on Northern Ireland on top of his dad Graham Quinn's shoulders. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas and Josh Magennis ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) at this morning's training session - Hungary awaits. Picture - David Hunter.
Hungary on the horizon as Northern Ireland train at Windsor Park. Picture - David Hunter.

Early pressure from Northern Ireland had fans in full voice. Josh Magennis was naturally nervous for the biggest game of his life and while he would have been disappointed he didn't open his international account with a first half goal, his early second half header which looped into the Greek net left him with a beaming smile as wide as Windsor Park.

And the fans were so engrossed in the game that they took little notice when the Faroes went 1-0 up on Hungary and then Finland drew with Romania which means Northern Ireland can qualify by topping the group if they don't lose in Finland.

Ten minutes before the final whistle, Windsor Park MC Stephen Clements reminded fans to stay off the playing surface at the final whistle so the players could enjoy a much deserved lap of honour.

It was duly respected allowing the players to milk the applause and adulation.

Gareth McAuley even celebrated with a French tricolour.

It was a major regret the great late Malcolm Brodie was not here to witness such an historic occasion.

For he would have surely uttered the memorable words: "Magnifique, magnifique, magnifique!"

Belfast Telegraph

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