Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland have to take hold of golden chance, says Chris Brunt

By Graham Luney

Chris Brunt has pleaded with his Northern Ireland team-mates to finish the job and make it to France next summer.

Michael O'Neill's side have made the transition from international whipping boys to a real force to be reckoned with in Euro 2016 qualifying Group F.

A victory over Romania at Windsor Park on June 13 will have the Green and White Army brushing up on their French.

Hungary are four points adrift of Northern Ireland and Finland are a further four points back in the race to qualify.

O'Neill's men have renewed momentum and belief and West Brom ace Brunt hopes their world doesn't fall apart.

"This is the best chance of qualifying for a major tournament," said the 30-year-old.

"In fact it is the best chance Northern Ireland have had in god knows how many years.

"Beating Finland was massive for us. It was important to get the result to put breathing space between us and them and there's now eight points in it.

"At the minute it looks like two from three but any points for Finland would have put them right in the mix, too.

"Not only did we do our job, but the Hungary result (0-0 with Greece) went our way, too.

"There's a bit of a cushion between us and Hungary now but we know we are only halfway through the campaign."

Smiles have returned to Northern Ireland faces after the struggles of the last World Cup qualifying campaign.

Brunt added: "It isn't much fun when expectations are low.

"We've all felt the disappointments of previous campaigns and that is why this feels so good.

"Everything has snowballed from that first win in Hungary but we have to keep it going.

"At the start of the campaign we might have been delighted with a sniff of a play-off place.

"Big Kyle (Lafferty) has been massive for us.

"He's maybe played better in other games but he scored two great goals and we won the game.

"We've won four games and taken 12 points from the first half of the campaign which is incredible.

"To be honest, some people may have thought that record would have been good at the end of the campaign, given how the last campaign went.

"We only won once in the World Cup qualifiers and finished with seven points.

"I know people thought it was strange at the time but we knew we weren't too far away, though.

"But like I said, we are only half way through this campaign and the great start will mean nothing unless we continue to keep the same standards and make sure we are on the flight to France."

Belfast Telegraph