Belfast Telegraph

Billy Hamilton: Northern Ireland's painful drought against the Welsh can be ended

By Billy Hamilton

I was part of the Northern Ireland side that last beat Wales in 1980. It's been a long wait but hopefully we can bring those years of hurt to an end tonight in France.

I can remember setting up Noel Brotherston's goal with a wee dinked pass towards him and it was enough to win the British Home Championship.

We had beaten Scotland 1-0 at Windsor, drew 1-1 with England and there was then huge hype and expectation around us winning the Championship in the Irish Football Association's centenary year.

It was a very tight game in Cardiff but we had the mettle to see the job through and it was a fantastic achievement.

There was a great sense of pride and it was a very special time for Northern Ireland as that team was going places - all the way to the World Cup in Spain in '82.

For us it was something special to shout about and that medal sits proudly in my trophy cabinet.

Wales were regarded as a bogey team for us.

I can remember they beat us 1-0 at Windsor Park and before we went to Spain they also overcame us 3-0 in a friendly, which was hardly ideal preparation.

It's amazing that we haven't beaten Wales since 1980. I watched the last friendly which finished 1-1 but they were without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, their two main men.

Going on performances so far, we are the underdogs yet again but I have a feeling this one could go all the way to penalties. If Wales can get the breakthrough in the first-half we could be doomed but the longer the game goes on with us still being in the match then the more confident I will get.

This has been a fantastic tournament for us with the team and our superb supporters gaining admirers.

We certainly needed the Green and White Army against Germany.

What about that match - amazing! I watched that game with my heart in my mouth.

I could not believe the number of chances they were creating but Michael McGovern produced world class save after world class save.

It was a tremendous effort from all the boys to dig in and keep the score to 1-0 and surely Michael has earned himself a big move after his heroics.

When I first saw the team I was a little bit disappointed Michael O'Neill had not picked Chris Baird because I felt his presence could have stopped some of the intricate passing we witnessed from the Germans.

It's proving to be very difficult to second guess Michael but I have a hunch he is going to pick Kyle Lafferty in attack against Wales.

Let Kyle stretch the Welsh defence and then bring on Conor Washington to exploit any tiredness.

I cheered Iceland's late goal as facing Wales is a much less daunting prospect than taking on hosts France.

And what about big Kyle Lafferty saying with a little bit of luck Northern Ireland could go all the way!?

You've got to admire his confidence but he's setting himself up for a fall there.

There's no harm in holding that view but once you express it you could end up with egg on your face.

Our Euro 2016 dream could come to an end tonight but by reaching the last 16 stage in France, this Northern Ireland side has matched the exploits of the class of '58, '82 and '86.

Perhaps guys like myself and Gerry Armstrong can rest in our armchairs now, with the fans having a new set of heroes to talk about!

It's been a long wait but we've got there.

And regardless of what happens tonight and for the rest of Euro 2016, one thing is certain - the lads will return home as heroes.

Belfast Telegraph