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Northern Ireland v Greece: Tense? Nervous? No, I'll be calm but win and who knows: Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/10/2015

Fever pitch: Michael O’Neill faces a nail-biting time tonight
Fever pitch: Michael O’Neill faces a nail-biting time tonight

For Michael O'Neill once tonight's crucial Euro qualifier with Greece begins at Windsor Park, emotion will go out the window. It has to he says.

Getting caught up in what will be a feverish atmosphere is no good to him or the Northern Ireland team, now just one victory away from next year's finals in France.

"I tend to be calm before game. The tension for me is earlier in the week, making sure the preparations are right," O'Neill said yesterday.

"I can sense when they're well prepared and are ready to play. There's almost like a handover process; you trust the players to go and do their job. The worst thing about the stadium being the way it is with all the redevelopments, there's nowhere for the manager to go so I just walk around with my head down trying not to make eye contact with people.

"After that, my job is to manage the game and be analytical more than emotional. The challenge is not to get carried away with the emotion and that is something I'm good at."

I ask him if he has thought about potential team celebrations if the dream scenario happens. His answer: "We are on a plane to Finland on Friday morning but it would be lovely to celebrate on Thursday night."

Smiling he adds: "We've told the players if they aren't on the plane to Finland, they won't be on the plane to France and that is the only sort of curfew we can enforce!

"That's really the only stick I can beat them with, to be fair.

"If we are successful I am sure the stadium won't empty in a hurry, but at the moment the focus is on the game."

O'Neill's own wild celebrations after Kyle Lafferty's late equaliser against Hungary last month were not in keeping with his normally reserved demeanour. Same again then?

"I've no idea what I would do to celebrate this time. Given the stick I've had since the last game I will probably get myself into the dressing room in case I embarrass myself even further. Hopefully we'll all be celebrating," he says.

As was the case when Northern Ireland qualified for World Cups in 1982 and 1986.

"I watched the World Cup in 82 on the television. It was an amazing experience as a kid," he says. "It was great to see that team and how it developed and grew throughout the tournament. It was a team that went just delighted to be part of the tournament, then ended up having a huge impact on the tournament as well.

"Then there was 86, off the back of that success. I was fortunate enough to come into the Northern Ireland squad as a player in 1988. There were still a lot of players that had been part of that experience and I was privileged to play with them. I know what it was like in those days and how the World Cup thing gripped the whole country. It would be lovely to experience that again and be part of it."

Belfast Telegraph

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