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European Qualifiers: Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart delivers for his dad on and off the pitch


Craig Cathcart heads in for Northern Ireland

Craig Cathcart heads in for Northern Ireland

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Craig Cathcart heads in for Northern Ireland

Craig Cathcart raised his hand in triumph in Helsinki and 1,200 miles away in Belfast, dad George raised a smile.

His son had just scored his first international goal, heading home against Finland in last night's 1-1 draw that meant Northern Ireland topped their Euro 2016 qualifying group.

George, so proud of his boy for all he has achieved in football, would have first been overjoyed to see Craig find the net for his country - but there was also a bonus to be had.

It came in the shape of a £5 bet that the central defender would score the first goal in the game.

"My dad put a bet on that I would score the first goal. He got me at 22/1," revealed Cathcart junior.

"He only put a fiver on so he couldn't have been that sure I would do it but I'm delighted for myself, him and all my family, who have been so great for me, to score my first goal for Northern Ireland."

It turned out to be a vital goal too, heading in Niall McGinn's cross, and helping Michael O'Neill's side clinch top spot in Group F.

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Had Northern Ireland lost in Helsinki, the Romanians, who won 3-0 away to the Faroe Islands, would have topped the group.

Cathcart, who won his 23rd cap last night, said: "It wasn't the best of games but it was nice to get my first goal and the point to get us to the top of the group.

"We didn't play well but it shows the spirit of the group to grind through it and get a result.

"For the goal I saw a bit of space at the near post, saw Niall had put a good ball in and got on the end of it.

"I didn't really think too much about it and I'm not one to get too excited about scoring, but I'll reflect on it later, I know it's an important goal.

"It's the cherry on top of this campaign for me. I had come off the bench before but I got two starts at the end of the campaign and to have played in such a big game against Greece on Thursday when we qualified was great.

"It's great to finally play my part and I look forward to helping the lads in the tournament.

"It's the first time a nation from pot five has topped the group which is a huge achievement for the lads, and a big statement. It's not easy to win two games on the bounce but we've done it throughout the campaign and that shows how good we've been."

Cathcart has been proving how good he is all season.

The former Manchester United and Blackpool defender has been excellent for Watford in the Premier League.

"I have been in good form. I had a positive season last year, obviously with the promotion, and it's been a good start to this season now, so on the football front things are going really well for me," said the 26-year-old.

"Obviously I had a bit of a taste of the Premier League with Blackpool before and every player wants to play there. There have been tough times for me in the Championship but I definitely think I deserve the chance to play at the highest level again.

"I definitely think I've matured over the past couple of years, and I think that's paying off."

For Northern Ireland central defence is a competitive area with Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes, Paddy McNair and Luke McCullough all capable of playing there as well as Cathcart.

"Centre-back has been a competitive position ever since I came into the squad, we've always had good defenders at a high level so it's always been tough to get a start, but a few of the lads are getting older and hopefully I will have my time in years to come," said Cathcart, who is highly rated by his international manager.

O'Neill said: "Craig is a player I liked since day one. I've never had any hesitation putting him in the team. He's been a little unfortunate because at times he's had injuries which have maybe halted his progress as a starting player, but to me when I watch him he looks like he belongs in the Premier League."

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