Belfast Telegraph

Gareth McAuley wants Northern Ireland to go out on a high

By Rory Dollard

Big finish: Gareth McAuley says Northern Ireland need two results in the final World Cup qualifiers

GARETH McAuley has warned fans that Friday night's clash against Azerbaijan may not be pretty, but he is determined to make it effective.

McAuley is less prone to sugaring the pill than most footballers and when he calls last month's 3-2 defeat in Luxembourg "a horror show", it clearly cuts deep.

Coming off the back of victory over Russia and a spirited, if ultimately doomed, effort against Portugal the disjointed, dispiriting events at the Stade Josy Barthel were a shock to the system.

And that is why McAuley would happily trade any number of plaudits for the cold, hard currency of three points in Baku.

"Results are what it's all about: we're not here to entertain this time, we're here to get a result," said the West Brom defender.

"We weren't good enough indivually or collectively in Luxembourg.

"It was obviously a bit of a horror show but we've got this game now to try and put things right.

"We've been in positions in the group when we've not really got what we deserved out of performances and now it's about results.

"No matter how it comes I think we need to get results in the last two games – for ourselves first and foremost and then for everyone else."

McAuley, who has played on the fringes of the Irish League, the grandure of the Premier League and everything in between, was not short of reasons for the morale-busting slump in Luxembourg.

He also confirmed what anyone who bumped into Michael O'Neill in the aftermath of that match would already have known – the manager was seething and ready to share it.

But he accepts that anger was justified and is ready to play his part in setting the record straight.

"We lost shape and discipline and we were expected to win it so you end up trying to do a little bit more, things you wouldn't normally do," he explained.

"It wasn't just one person, the whole team couldn't pass it from A to B and that gave them (Luxembourg) confidence to come at us.

"We ended up causing ourselves problems and shooting ourselves in the foot.

"It was an embarrassing defeat.

"Obviously Michael was angry, but you expect that.

"As a manager you're emotional and involved in the game, you blow your top and say what you need to say.

"Everyone accepts that and nobody can say otherwise or have any real defence.

"Things were said and taken on board and everyone is here now to try and put things right."

If anyone in the Northern Ireland camp needs a lesson in turning things around, they need look only as far as McAuley's Albion side.

They had a chastening start to the season, only to rally with a remarkable win at Old Trafford and a battling draw against table-topping Arsenal at the weekend.

"We've got back to basics –back to doing things in a good team shape and it's working for us," he said.

"We got away from that but things have started to pick up for us."

Northern Ireland take note.

While there are any number of voices in victory, McAuley's willingness to grasp the prickliest of nettles – be it his appeal for more vocal support at Windsor Park or his recent thoughts on the return of David Martin to the IFA – marks him out as a player of real substance.

But, with his 34th birthday hovering into view in just two months time, thoughts have started to turn to how long he will be around.

Fans must surely have asked themselves the question, O'Neill has mused on the subject himself of late and McAuley admits he has also considered his future.

The good news is that he feels fit and well to go on.

The bad news is, he has no idea how soon that could change.

"It's a tough one. I don't think I'm going to retire but when the next (qualifiers) come around I'll have another pre-season under my belt and maybe I'll make that decision at that stage, when we see how things are going.

"I've had conversations at home with family and obviously with my club as well.

"There's no conclusion being drawn at the moment and, as it is, I feel fine to carry on doing it, so it's every day as it comes.

"If I have to make a decision it would probably be around pre-season next year."

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