Belfast Telegraph

Heroes make fairy tale come true

Editor's Viewpoint

What an incredible night for Northern Ireland football. The reaction of the players and substitutes who leapt into each others' arms when the final whistle blew at Windsor Park - knowing that they were on their way to France for the finals of the European Championship next year after their 3-1 victory over Greece - said it all.

They knew they were history makers, the first side from this tiny province ever to qualify for the final stages of this prestigious tournament. It was 1986 that was the last time a Northern Ireland side reached any important tournament finals. Now, we have a new set of legends to follow.

Few outside of Northern Ireland would even know many of the players who performed so heroically last night, but their names will be writ large in the annals of the local game.

At the start of these qualifying matches there was the hope that springs eternal in every fan's heart that the team might do themselves credit, but few expected them to romp home with the ease they did.

Even last night there were fears that they might not gain the points required for automatic qualification, given that four key players were missing.

But that was to underestimate the fighting spirit of the team, especially of makeshift striker Josh Magennis who, incredibly, began his football career as a goalkeeper before being converted to a goalscorer.

His goal - sandwiched between two by captain Steven Davis - was a fairytale ingredient in a wonderful victory. Much of the credit will deservedly go to manager Michael O'Neill, who had to endure a seemingly endless series of matches before seeing his side win their first match under his guidance, but who now has achieved what once seemed not only improbable but impossible.

The irony is that Northern Ireland's qualification will alert clubs all over the UK to O'Neill's managerial talent, and he may be the target of some very tempting offers.

We should also remember another O'Neill, former Northern Ireland international Martin, whose Republic of Ireland side gave themselves a chance of joining our team in France with an outstanding victory over world champions Germany in Dublin last night.

Once again, sport has put a smile on the face of Northern Ireland and made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice of this tiny province. The glory days are back.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph