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Northern Ireland v Latvia: Gareth McAuley is poised to be a goal-scoring record-breaker

By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley has become a cult hero with the Northern Ireland supporters.

On match night at Windsor Park his name is chanted loud and proud around the stadium.

Come Friday, they could be hailing the West Brom star as a record breaker.

Should he score against Latvia in the Belfast friendly, the man known as 'Big G' will become Northern Ireland's most prolific defender.

The 35-year-old from Larne didn't just produce heroics in his own area during the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. He was also on form in the opposition area scoring three times.

That took McAuley's tally to seven in 57 international appearances.

And it meant that he moved alongside Gerry Taggart in the list of Northern Ireland's greatest goalscoring defenders.

And the similarities with the ex-Leicester City centre back don't end there.

In September when McAuley scored twice in the 3-1 Group F victory over the Faroe Islands he became the first defender since Taggart against Poland in 1991 to hit a brace for Northern Ireland.

Another point to note is if McAuley nets against Latvia or next year, be that in friendlies or at the Euro finals in France, he will move to eight goals and go level with Derek Dougan, Willie Irvine and 1982 World Cup skipper Martin O'Neill in joint 16th place in the all-time list.

There has been much talk over the past year that McAuley could retire from international football after the finals in France.

Northern Ireland supporters would, of course, love McAuley to continue playing for as long as possible.

But departing the international scene in France - and he is unlikely to be the only Northern Ireland player to call it quits then - would certainly be a good place to go.

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Belfast Telegraph