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Michael O'Neill hails winning end to unforgettable year for Northern Ireland

Published 13/11/2015

Steven Davis grabbed the only goal of the game to record Northern Ireland's first friendly win since March 2008
Steven Davis grabbed the only goal of the game to record Northern Ireland's first friendly win since March 2008

Michael O'Neill praised his Northern Ireland side for signing off a superb 2015 in winning fashion.

It has been an unforgettable year for O'Neill and his side, who last month ended a 30-year absence from tournament football by sealing a place at Euro 2016.

And a 1-0 win over Latvia at Windsor Park ensured they ended the year on a high, captain Steven Davis grabbing the only goal of the game to record Northern Ireland's first friendly win since March 2008.

"This is the last time we will see each other as a group until March. The main thing was to win the game and get a level of performance," he said.

"We have had a great year with some great results, and a great campaign.

"We should celebrate the achievements of the team. That's eight games unbeaten now and a clean sheet was good as well. So it was all positive.

"We are looking forward to the tournament now. The players have to recognise what has got them here to this point, and the work rate and energy they have put in, and the belief and confidence they have as a team.

"It was important we maintained that and didn't let our performance dip. The players took that on board."

O'Neill was also armed with a tongue-in-cheek response for those who have been quick to remind him of the country's barren run in friendlies since he took the job.

"I keep reading these really positive stats from people that go back to 1966...that we haven't won a friendly since then or something," he said.

"Trust me, I wasn't manager back then. I think we should celebrate that we are going to the Euros, rather than dredge these things up."

Davis was a fitting match-winner on a night designed to celebrate the side's qualification.

He took last month's crunch match against Greece by the horns, scoring twice in a 3-1 win.

And his happy knack in front of goal continued when he tapped home in the 55th minute having seen his initial header saved.

"It was nice for Steven," said O'Neill.

"His daughter was here, it was maybe the first game she has been to, so a goal and man-of-the-match performance was superb. Once again, he led by example.

"His attitude to the game is the key, in terms of his work rate off the ball and his quality on the ball.

"It was a great ball from Craig Cathcart and Steven is making a habit of popping up in the box. He's in a rich vein of form for his club too, so long may it continue for us."

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