Belfast Telegraph

Down but not out, Northern Ireland assured of our loyalty

Editor's Viewpoint

There is undoubtedly a great sense of disappointment in all quarters that Northern Ireland failed to win their first match yesterday at Euro 2016.

Despite their efforts, they lost to the better team, Poland. However, they have not lost their group.

There is time to prepare for their next game against Ukraine on Thursday, hoping for the win which they will need to stay in contention.

Regardless of the result in Nice yesterday, it has been an exceptional achievement by Northern Ireland to reach this stage of the competition, and in doing so they set new records.

The team have excited people across Northern Ireland in a way that we have seldom seen before.

Our small country has earned the right to recognition on the international stage, and for all the right reasons.

The feel-good factor has cascaded down into the daily life of people, from all backgrounds, and for this reason alone manager Michael O'Neill and the players should be immensely proud.

For far too long we have had to sit on the sidelines of major competitions and watch teams from many other countries bid for glory.

Now, finally, our boys have earned the opportunity to show what they can do.

After last night, the task is more difficult but it is still not impossible to emulate the impact of the Northern Ireland teams who did so well in the World Cups of 1958, 1982 and 1986.

Another great bonus for Northern Ireland, apart from reaching the finals in France, is the backing from their travelling fans.

They have shown for so many years that they are some of the best-behaved in the world, and they have spread a positive message about the warmth and hospitality of the Northern Ireland people.

This contrasts strongly with the antics of a minority of English fans who have been involved in disgraceful clashes with a minority of Russian and French supporters, and also the French police who have been trying to keep the peace.

Northern Ireland have failed to win their opening game but all is not lost. By Thursday, when the crucial match with Ukraine takes place, there will be a new surge of support at home and abroad for our team.

One of the great attractions of sport is its unpredictability, and who knows what might happen. Yes, we feel a bit down, but we are by no means out.

Belfast Telegraph


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