Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Greece: Lafferty stand-in Josh Magennis is primed to be unlikely hero

By Steven Beacom

Josh Magennis, the goalkeeper turned goalgetter, is being billed as Northern Ireland's unlikely hero in waiting.

Unless manager Michael O'Neill springs a surprise, the 25-year-old from Bangor is set to replace the suspended Kyle Lafferty in attack in tonight's Euro 2016 qualifier against Greece in Belfast.

For Kilmarnock this season Magennis is in the goalscoring form of his life, but in 14 internationals he has yet to strike for his country.

Could it be written in the stars that five years on from winning his first cap he scores the winning goal tonight that takes Northern Ireland to the Euro finals?

There have been many incredible tales in this campaign from Lafferty's heroics to the Kop at Windsor Park being demolished, but Magennis smashing the ball into the net to take the team to France would beat them all.

And it would undoubtedly be the highlight of what has been an eventful career which began as a promising goalkeeper at Glentoran. So promising that he joined Cardiff at 16 with high hopes of making the grade as a number one.

Magennis was on the bench for a League Cup game at Liverpool, but that was about as good as it got.

"I sort of plummeted after that," he was honest enough to admit.

He added: "I honestly don't know whether it was nerves or self-belief, but I just never hit the heights where I thought I could go."

Having been told he couldn't cut it between the sticks, others may have decided to return to home comforts in Northern Ireland and for Magennis there was an opportunity to play rugby here as Ulster had earmarked him as a centre with a bright future.

But when Cardiff's Academy manager Neil Ardley told big Josh to use his feet and head as a striker rather than his hands as a goalkeeper, he gave it a go having asking God for some divine intervention in terms of his life and choice of career.

And look at him now... about to play in one of the biggest sporting occasions in Northern Ireland history. From Cardiff he moved to Aberdeen, where he was used as a right-back as well as a striker, before signing for Kilmarnock last year.

This season he has been banging in the goals in the Scottish Premiership and is ready to do the same for Northern Ireland tonight, if given the chance against a Greek team, who are bottom of the Group F table.

O'Neill says: "Should Josh be selected we know what we're going to get.

"Total commitment, total application and I think in the past he's been judged unfairly.

"I've watched him a lot in Scotland. This season he has finally had a chance to play in his preferred position and his strongest position.

"He was Kilmarnock's top goal-scorer in a difficult season last season and he is their top goal-scorer now, too.

"He has power and pace and is one of the few centre forwards in the Scottish Premiership who can physically ask defenders, like Virgil van Dijk when he was at Celtic, questions.

"He's key to everything Kilmarnock do and should he start, he deserves the opportunity."

Belfast Telegraph