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Fans hail Big G as McAuley finds the magic touch

By Ian Cahoon

Published 05/09/2015

Fan power: These Northern Ireland fans were blending in with the locals in Torshavn last night
Fan power: These Northern Ireland fans were blending in with the locals in Torshavn last night

Anticipation for a trip to Euro 2016 is at fever pitch among Northern Ireland fans.

Last night's 3-1 win away to the Faroe Islands moved Michael O'Neill's men to within touching distance of the European Championships next summer.

Around 300 hardy supporters made it to the tiny group of islands, with many more glued to their TV screens back home.

It was a nervy 90 minutes but, in the end, the victory leaves thousands of fans plotting their route to France.

Two goal hero Gareth McAuley drew most of the praise for his performance at both ends of the pitch. "McAuley was superb, as he always is," said Belfast man Kyle McDowell.

"He's got seven goals for Northern Ireland now and that's more than a lot of strikers have ended up with down the years!

"His goals were absolutely vital and it was his desire that got him in there both times.

"You can see what playing for his country means to him and that's the sort of commitment we need. He's one player who deserves to get to a major tournament and we're so close now."

Carrick man Adrian Hack was full of praise of a number of O'Neill's stars.

He said: "It was not a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but a crucial result.

"Gareth McAuley was immense. He was dominant at the back and obviously got those two goals.

"Stuart Dallas looked lively down the flank, but was caught out doing keepy-uppies in his own area which allowed the Islanders to equalise and I thought Steve Davis bossed the centre of midfield.

"Apart from a dodgy 20 minutes in the first half, when either nerves or complacency took hold, the victory was fully deserved, if hard won.

"Dare we believe we can get over the line and book our flights to France? You bet!"

While Northern Ireland weren't at their fluent best for large spells in Torshavn they dug in to get the job done, which pleased Gareth Roberts.

"It wasn't our best performance but that makes the victory even more important," Gareth said. "How many times have we had hard luck stories, when our performance deserved more than we got?

"The best teams can grind it out when they haven't played well and it looks like we've learned to do that.

"I thought a few of our lads looked like they weren't fully match fit, but the sending off seemed to spur us on.

"We got the second when it really mattered and it meant we didn't have to chase things late on."

A win over Hungary at Windsor Park on Monday will see Northern Ireland qualify for their first ever European Championships.

It is a new experience for a generation of Northern Ireland fans, such as Mark Bowers.

"A lot of fans think they're dreaming at the minute, this is totally new territory," he said.

"Anticipation has grown and we're even winning matches away from home, which is incredible."

Belfast Telegraph

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