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Picture of the week: Oui are on our way to France

By Laurence White

Those who say that modern professional football players are only interested in hugely inflated wages and the lavish trappings that go with them should take a look at the above photograph.

Players and coaching staff of the Northern Ireland squad show their sheer delight at qualifying for the European Championships finals in France next year by throwing manager Michael O'Neill high in the air.

It is an image that is often replicated by winning teams in the lowest levels of the game, but seldom at the rarefied international level.

The players' joy is unrestrained. They are a team in the truest sense of the word - a collection of players that might be described as journeymen footballers - moulded into a formidable side by an intelligent, if understated, manager.

And now they get to rub shoulders with the elite of European football.

Expectation was high among fans before Thursday's encounter with Greece and they were equally determined to play their part in getting their team to the finals of a major tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Throughout a memorable game they roared themselves hoarse encouraging their soon-to-be heroes. Many were not even born the last time Northern Ireland played in the World Cup finals and indeed captain Steven Davis was only one at the time and Josh Magennis, the other goalscorer, was still a twinkle in his parents' eyes.

But now they have written their names into history as the men who brought Northern Ireland to its first ever European Championships finals.

As someone memorably put it, Northern Ireland's fans have for the past 30 years followed the team, not through thick and thin, but through thin and thin.

But no longer. They are on their way to France and the supporters, dubbed among the best in Europe, will also enjoy their summer in the sun next year, whatever the outcome.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph