We don’t do things the easy way in Northern Ireland do we? I’m convinced there’s something in our DNA that says whatever we do can’t be straightforward and plain sailing, it wouldn’t be the same would it?
We like to live life on the edge, we test our nervous capacity and then when it’s all over we actually tell ourselves we enjoyed it. That was the case on Thursday night and some more in Sarajevo.
This team never fails to inspire us and gives us nights to remember. They delivered once again with a trademark Northern Ireland performance full of heart, desire and showed great pride in representing our country. That’s all the green and white army ask for and they got it in abundance from every single player.
For the manager, Ian Baraclough, it was the biggest game of his footballing career either as a player or a manager. He knew the job remit when he was appointed in June, get past Bosnia and give us a chance of qualifying for back-to-back European Championships.
He passed with flying colours and can rightly pat himself on the back but he will know all it’s done is give the team a platform for more success. He will have got a taste of what its really like to be part of a winning Northern Ireland set up and what it means to everyone. No doubt he will want more, as will the players.
After the disappointing result and performance last month against Norway I’ve no doubt that every waking moment of Ian’s days will have been consumed with that game. He will have been desperate to get back on the training pitch to right the wrongs and get his ideas across to the players. That’s the tough side of international football because the players go back to their clubs and get back playing and it’s out of their system, for managers its different and a lonely place.
There will have been people out there desperate for Ian to fail and he will have known that, too, which will have added to the expectation and pressure ahead of the game.
The game itself was what we anticipated - very even, tense and full of drama because of what was at stake for the winner.
It was a night for experience and players who have the big game know how and the team selection reflected that. The starting 11 was littered with caps, 572 to be exact, and players who had been there and done it before when it mattered.
Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans warm-up before Thursday nights Euro 2020 playoff semi final against Bosnia & Herzegovina at the Stadion Grbavica, Sarajevo. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Having Jonny Evans fit and available was crucial for Ian and that will have helped settle any nerves he may have had personally ahead of the game. Jonny’s presence and stature rubs off on the players around him and that was evident to see. He brings such an assurance and composure to the team and along with Craig Cathcart they gave the team a strong solid foundation to build from.
Niall McGinn, starting his first away game in international football since 2015, will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows. However Niall has shown he’s a player for the big stage with his goals in Portugal, Hungary and Lyon a case in point.
What impressed me most was how the players dealt with the early set back and the unfortunate nature of the opening goal. It would have been easy to feel sorry for themselves and let their heads drop but it was the opposite, it actually sparked the team into life.
It looked like the penny dropped and they realised the enormity of the game. From that point on they grew into the game, they were forceful, energised and showed a spirit that’s attributed to the green jersey.
The manager’s call to replace Jordan Jones and Jordan Thompson right at the death with Conor Washington and Liam Boyce proved a stroke of genius. I know the two young lads won’t have felt that way in the moment but their time will come and it was a brave call from Baraclough.
As for Boyce and Washington, the pressure heaped onto their shoulders was enormous and I have to admit I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their boots! They deserve a special mention because they kept their focus and delivered the goods.
So as the dust settles the manager and players can look back and be pleased with their night’s work. It’s a huge step in the right direction and a big hurdle to overcome but let’s hope its just the start of more good times ahead.
For Ian Baraclough he can start to step out of the shadow of his predecessor, he’s got his first victory as manager and that should give him a big lift personally.
Next up on Sunday night is Austria so once again let’s get ready to enjoy the green and white rollercoaster!