Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland star Conor Washington savours journey to big league from the non-league

By Steven Beacom

The last time the Euro finals were played in 2012, Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington was a non-league player.

Turning out for St Ives Town was quite the experience.

Washington has many happy memories from his time there. This is his favourite and when you read it you'll understand.

More: Some of the Northern Ireland stars didn't know who I was: Conor McLaughlin

"In one of the last games I played, my brother drove me to the game but took me to the wrong stadium to start with. Well I say stadium, it was more like a park pitch," recalled Washington.

"I was in the running for the golden boot and I turned up at 2.57pm. It was just ridiculous. I ran into the changing rooms, the manager is screaming at me saying 'Where have you been? What are you doing?' He told me to get my kit on because I was starting and I thought I can't be starting, it's only three minutes to go before kick-off.

"Funnily enough, from the kick-off, the ball's come to me about 25 yards out and I've just hit it and it's gone straight into the top corner. Maybe I should play without warming up more often!"

There's something about Washington. A rawness to his football that makes him play without fear.

More: Barry Hunter sure that Northern Ireland can disarm Euro superpowers in the finals

Since making his international debut in March in Wales, he has scored twice in four games for Northern Ireland, both at Windsor Park, and there is a feeling in the squad that the 24-year-old could make a real impact in France if given the chance.

You know starting against Poland on Sunday, Ukraine or Germany in any of the group games would not faze him.

Now with QPR after spells with Newport and Peterborough, Washington worked as a postman before making the breakthrough into professional football.

He's reminded of his previous occupation in just about every interview he does, but takes it in his stride.

"I value those experiences. They made me the person I am today, kept me grounded. It's one of those tags that is going to stick with me forever but it's not the worst one in the world," he said.

More: Kyle Lafferty scare is first bump on our French Euro 2016 adventure

"It does seem a lifetime ago now. Back then I'd be up at 5am and then in for 5.30am-6am. Depending on what kind of day it was, a heavy day or a light day or whatever, we'd be done for midday, 1pm or 2pm at the latest.

"Then it'd be some gym, golf or some sleep in the afternoon depending on how I felt. Tuesday nights would be playing for St Ives or training if we didn't have a game."

Poland's ace striker Robert Lewandowski never had to go through that regime.

Washington added: "This is all dreamland stuff for me. Four years ago I was a postman and now I'm at the Euros with Northern Ireland.

"This is what I've worked towards for the last couple of months since there was a sniff of a call-up.

"We maybe won't have the quality of some other teams at the tournament but I think you'd go a long way to find one that's more unified."

More: French legend Alain Giresse writes off 'limited' Northern Ireland in Euro 2016 finals

Belfast Telegraph