Belfast Telegraph

I'll fight for my new Northern Ireland pals, insists striker Conor Washington

By Steven Beacom

Conor Washington was working as a postman during the Euro 2012 finals. When the 2016 tournament takes place, the 23-year-old will be all about delivering goals for Northern Ireland.

The QPR striker has come a long way in a short space of time and fresh from his brilliant winning goal for Northern Ireland against Slovenia at Windsor Park on Monday night, Washington, fitness permitting, will be on his way to France in the summer.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who will name his 23-man squad for the finals in May, was full of praise for Washington after the 1-0 friendly success which saw the team take their unbeaten run to a record 10 games. The manager enthused about the player's 'pace and power' and a 'rawness you don't get from players who have not come through academy systems'.

Washington offers the team something different in attack and although post-match on Monday the forward was too modest to say he had booked his seat to France, O'Neill's words of praise may as well have come with a first class plane ticket.

The transformation from postie to international predator is remarkable for the man from Kent, who qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his late Belfast-born grandmother Pamela.

Washington admits he doesn't have a clue what part of the city his granny came from, but will forever be indebted to her roots and her accent as it helped him settle in straight away to the Northern Ireland squad when he met up with his new team-mates for the first time for last week's 1-1 friendly draw in Wales.

"My grandmother passed away about 10 years ago," said Washington, a big Arsenal fan.

"She had already moved over to England by the time I was born, but she had that strong Northern Ireland accent which has helped me fit in with the team."

Understanding the Ulster brogue is one thing. His ability to develop an understanding with the Northern Ireland players after just a few days working with them was even more impressive.

But then Washington is used to adapting.

When he worked as a postman, he stamped his authority on the United Counties League Premier Division, netting 52 times in 50 games for St Ives Town.

Those goals secured a £5,000 move to Newport County in October 2012. Initially he suffered from homesickness and told his mum he wanted to leave.

Washington stayed and flourished with the Welsh club after they won promotion to the Football League.

In January 2014, he joined Peterborough and O'Neill was alerted to the fact that Washington was eligible for Northern Ireland.

Record goalscorer David Healy was sent on a scouting trip and O'Neill himself watched the player several times, liking what he saw as Washington hit a sustained scoring streak for Posh. QPR did too. They signed him in January for £2.8million.

He has yet to score for the Loftus Road outfit, but is already off the mark with Northern Ireland. His first game at international level in Wales lasted just 45 minutes due to a tactical half-time switch. His second versus Slovenia was over on 70, when he received a deserved standing ovation from the fans on his Windsor Park debut.

Washington took his first-half goal wonderfully well, showing poise after his pace and physical presence had tormented the visiting defence.

"I tried to be as cool as I could and make sure I got the shot on target and thankfully it went in," he said.

"For the goal to win the match was very special. To go 10 games unbeaten is a phenomenal record and it is great to be a part of this squad.

"There is great chemistry in the squad. It has a club feel to it. It is not the biggest squad of players in the world, but everyone fights for each other and that is important."

Washington showed that fight just after the break when he stepped in to help Jamie Ward, who was involved in a niggly tussle with Slovenian players. He said: "They all ganged up on Wardy so I jumped in. I ended up getting booked for it, but these things happen. I'm glad to be part of this close knit group and I'm committed to fighting every inch of the way for the team.

"My dream is to go to the Euros, but I know I'm not there yet. I will keep working and hopefully be selected for the next Northern Ireland squad."

On the same day that Washington became the nation's latest national hero, his old club St Ives Town drew 0-0 with Bedford in the Southern League Division One Central.

Like I said Conor has already come a very long way - and to think his journey with Northern Ireland is only just beginning.

Belfast Telegraph