Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece: Special ones gave us night to remember at Windsor Park

By Paul Ferguson

Allez les verts. Passports at the ready, the Green and White Army have been given official clearance to descend on France.

Last night at Windsor Park, Steven Davis started a party 30 years in the making. Josh Magennis, with his first international goal, made sure the festivities kept going long into the night and the inspirational captain may as well have written a sick note for every Northern Ireland fan in attendance for the rest of the week with his second and his country's third.

History has been made.

Northern Ireland are going to their first ever European Championship finals and boy did Michael O'Neill's men do it in style.

The optimism of the passionate and extremely loyal fans had been fulfilled. French flags flew all around the famous south Belfast venue which has witnessed so many special occasions.

This was right up there with the days of McParland, Best, Armstrong and Whiteside.

Unlike against Hungary last month, when there was nervous anticipation at Windsor Park before kick-off, there was a genuine belief that victory and a finals spot would be secured, despite boss O'Neill being without four key players and Greece having featured in the last 16 of the World Cup finals just under a year and half ago.

The 14 heroes on the pitch delivered and so emphatically. Take a bow along with Kyle Lafferty, Chris Baird, Conor McLaughlin and Jonny Evans in the stands.

For too long Northern Ireland has been forced to delve into its past for qualifying success. Not anymore.

The biggest crowd, 11,700, at the new look Windsor were in attendance to witness such an incredible feat - but it could have easily have so much more.

Fans who weren't lucky enough to have a golden ticket for the game, were queuing up at Northern Ireland friendly bars from early evening.

Four-time Major golf champion Rory McIlroy and huge NI fan IBF super-bantamweight world champion Carl Frampton were in attendance, but for once they were not the ones the fans wanted to see.

It was the men in green and the general Michael O'Neill who garnered all the attention.

Early pressure from Northern Ireland had fans in full voice. Josh Magennis was naturally nervous for the biggest game of his life and while he would have been disappointed he didn't open his international account with a first half goal, his early second half header which looped into the Greek net left him with a beaming smile as wide as Windsor Park.

And the fans were so engrossed in the game that they took little notice when the Faroes went 1-0 up on Hungary and then Finland drew with Romania which means Northern Ireland can qualify by topping the group if they don't lose in Finland.

Ten minutes before the final whistle, Windsor Park MC Stephen Clements reminded fans to stay off the playing surface at the final whistle so the players could enjoy a much deserved lap of honour.

It was duly respected allowing the players to milk the applause and adulation.

Gareth McAuley even celebrated with a French tricolour.

It was a major regret the great late Malcolm Brodie was not here to witness such an historic occasion.

For he would have surely uttered the memorable words: "Magnifique, magnifique, magnifique!"

Belfast Telegraph