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Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill hails new goal-den boy Conor Washington

By Steven Beacom

Published 29/03/2016

Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team mates Oliver Norwood and Jonathan Evans during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team mates Oliver Norwood and Jonathan Evans during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis has a shot on goal ahead of Slovenia's Samardzic Miral during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28: Roy Carroll of Northern Ireland saves a penalty from Novakovic Milivoje of Slovenia during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) and Slovenia's Cesar Bostjan (2nd from left) attempt to separate Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward and Slovenia's Samardzic Miral during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans during the 14th minute stand up and applaud in respect of Johan Cruyff who died recently during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans observe a minutes silent in respect to Sean McGrotty, 49, his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, 8, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels, 59, and Ms Daniels' daughter Jodie Lee Daniels, who was 14 who died in Buncrana, Co. Donegal before an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Northern Ireland fans during the 14th minute stand up and applaud in respect of Johan Cruyff who died recently during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Stephen Davis leads out Northern Ireland before an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team mates during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28: Conor Washington (L) of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Stephen Davis (left) reacts to a challenge from Slovenia's Jokic Bojan during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28: Jamie Ward (R) of Northern Ireland and Krhin Rene (L) of Slovenia during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28: Jamie Ward (L) of Northern Ireland and Krhin Rene (R) of Slovenia during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's defender Paddy McNair (R) vies with Slovenia's midfielder Benjamin Verbic during the international friendly football match between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast on March 28, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's defender Paddy McNair (R) vies with Slovenia's midfielder Benjamin Verbic during the international friendly football match between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast on March 28, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's Stephen Davis (left) and Jonathan Evans (right) and Slovenia's Ilicic Josip (centre) battle for the ball during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands show their support during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood (left) and Slovenia's Ilicic Josip battle for the ball during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Patrick McNair (left) jumps to head the ball during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland players line up with mascots to sing their country's national Anthem prior to kick off during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill stands at the touchline during an International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 28, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's dressing room which they will use for the first time before Monday night's International Friendly against Slovenia at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry / Press Eye
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session ahead of Monday nights International Friendly against Slovenia. Photo by William Cherry Press Eye
Northern Ireland's dressing room which they will use for the first time before Monday night's International Friendly against Slovenia at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry / Press Eye
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights International Friendly against Slovenia. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights International Friendly against Slovenia. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis with Kyle Lafferty during Sundays training session at the National Stadium ahead of Monday nights International Friendly against Slovenia. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights International Friendly against Slovenia. Photo by William Cherry

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill hailed the hunger and desire of Conor Washington after the QPR striker's winning goal against Slovenia created history for the country.

Washington netted in the first half on his Windsor Park debut and in only his second international to become an instant hero as Northern Ireland won 1-0 to extend their unbeaten run to a record-breaking 10 games.

O'Neill was delighted to make history and even more pleased with the qualities shown by Washington, who is now a certainty to make the 23-man squad for the Euro finals.

Read more: Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness celebrate Northern Ireland's record-breaking Slovenia win

"The first time I saw Conor play was against Luton in the second round of the FA Cup and he scored a goal in the exact same area of the pitch," said O'Neill.

"He loves to get into a tussle with a centre-back and the physical side of the game. Equally when he gets in there he has the ability to show a bit of quality.

"You could see what Conor is about, that rawness, that power, that pace, sometimes you don't get that from players who are in a development system from a very young age.

"He has those attributes, which are refreshing to see as a coach, he's so hungry to learn and keen to do well. It's great.

"For a player who has just come into the squad, the reaction from the other members of the team to see him scoring shows how well he's fitting in."

On beating a record previously held by two Billy Bingham sides in the 80s who went nine games unbeaten in-a-row, O'Neill stated: "It's been a good night and a good week. If you take it into context, it's been a really good year.

"The record is great for this group of players. There's players that have gone 10 games without a win, the opposite side of that, and played in bad times. We're in this moment, we want it to last as long as we can keep it there.

"It's nice for me because Billy Bingham was the manager who gave me my debut at 18 years of age, he believed in me at a young age. I've tried to take that into management in terms of giving players opportunities.

"Getting the record is a significant milestone for this squad. I think you can see that in how they've performed. We've played better, but there was a great appetite to make sure we won the game.

"Roy Carroll made a good penalty save and we defended superbly in the second half. It's very encouraging. When we go to France we won't be the most talented team in the finals, but our job is to have them the best organised.

"I think you'll go a long way to find a team with as big a heart. We have to continue to develop that."

O'Neill praised the focus of his players to adapt to different styles, such as the 3-5-2 that he operated last night.

"For some of them it was new, to come in and play 3-5-2, they don't play it that often at their clubs...you really need that focus," he added.

"We've got that. I see it now at a greater level than the four years I've been in charge. That comes with belief and success.

"I think the players are adaptable and they are starting to think about the game a lot more than maybe they did previously."

Belfast Telegraph

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