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Josh Magennis: This result can't take away from amazing year for Northern Ireland

By Paul Ferguson

Upbeat Josh Magennis admitted manager Michael O'Neill told his players that they must not allow last night's 3-0 defeat to Croatia to deflect from what has been an incredible 2016 for Northern Ireland.

In a year when Northern Ireland created history by reaching the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 and are now sitting pretty in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers - second in Group C - Magennis admitted this friendly result will be quickly forgotten about.

O'Neill made six changes from the side that hammered Azerbaijan 4-0 last Friday, giving his fringe players some much needed international game-time.

Croatia did something similar with five big name players missing - but obviously have more quality in reserve and a bigger pool of players to choose from.

This was not lost on Magennis who said the players were determined to end 2016 on a huge high, but it was more important to make sure certain players in the Northern Ireland squad received caps.

Magennis conceded: "Michael in the dressing room afterwards just told us to forget about the game quickly and that the result can't take away from our amazing year, how memorable it was and how much we all came together as a team.

"The most important game for us was the Azerbaijan match last Friday - we won that, we are second in the group and now we move on to 2017.

"So it's really has been fantastic year for us - it would have been nice to get the win to cap off the year but we knew it was always going to be a difficult task with the amount of changes we had in our team.

"They were very good. They have a lot of technically gifted players especially Mario Mandzukic who plays through the middle. He was just one of a number of players who were excellent. But we want to be playing against this standard of opposition - it's a pity we weren't able to nullify their threat.

"To play against that standard is still a big learning curve for us, I'm sure when the dust settles we will use this footage to go over and use some of it going into next year and make sure we don't make certain mistakes."

Magennis, who has enjoyed a big breakthrough in 2016 as he has started all four World Cup qualifiers and played his part from the bench at the Euros, knows how important it is for squad players to receive some international minutes. Last night he won his 27th cap.

Just a few years ago he was that player - travelling around the world hoping he could get a few minutes for Northern Ireland.

"It was a worthwhile exercise because there are a lot of the players in the squad do a lot behind the scenes in training and help us prepare," says Magennis, who once again played on the right against Croatia, just off the striker.

"They maybe come away for 10 days and don't see much action. I know what it is like because I was that player a few years ago. These games where you get a start are so important to the players because you itch for a game like this if you are sitting on the bench or coming off the bench. It's a massive thing playing for your country.

"I'm just so grateful to Michael O'Neill for giving me a chance in 2016 and I try to take that opportunity every time I go on the pitch for Northern Ireland. We played hard but it's just a pity we weren't able to get the win tonight."

Magennis will now return to club Charlton, who yesterday sacked their manager Russell Slade.

It came as a shock to the 26-year-old, who was signed by Slade.

He admitted: "I've been away with Northern Ireland so haven't really been aware of what is going on back at the club.

"In terms of who it is coming in I'm not too sure. But the important thing for me at Charlton is, my attitude will never change and I will always give 100 per cent whoever the manager is."

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