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Northern Ireland v Greece: Michael O'Neill has kept Euro mission on track insists Gareth McAuley


Praise: Gareth McAuley has applauded his NI manager

Praise: Gareth McAuley has applauded his NI manager

?William Cherry / Presseye

Praise: Gareth McAuley has applauded his NI manager

Gareth McAuley has revealed how manager Michael O'Neill has changed the mentality of the Northern Ireland team to take them to the brink of qualification for the Euro 2016 finals.

Northern Ireland will enter tonight's Group F clash with Greece at Windsor Park knowing victory will take them to France next year.

It's a far cry from a couple of years ago when O'Neill's men were losing away to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in the World Cup qualifiers.

Quizzed on why this campaign has been so different to those in the recent past, West Brom defender says the manager's hard work has paid off and admits that the luck of the draw with fixtures has also played a key role.

"Lots of stuff is different. In past campaigns for instance we've been short of goals, but have been scoring quite a few this around," said McAuley.

"Also Michael has been very important in the work he has done and it's all come together for the team.

"It took time, but it has worked. We took a couple of kicks along the way like losing to Luxembourg.

"Another thing that helped is that the draw went for us. In this campaign we played the Faroes before going to Greece whereas in the previous campaign we were in Luxembourg just a few days after we played Portugal at home."

Many players point to the 2-0 win over Greece in Athens a year ago as a defining point in the campaign when they started to believe that qualification was on. McAuley states that the 2-0 victory over the Faroes just days before in that double header was just as vital.

"A lot of people talk about that double header, especially the win in Greece, but to me the Faroes game before it was a big one for us because we had come unstuck in those types of games in past groups," he said.

"If we wanted to do anything we had to take six points from those two games and that meant taking care of the Faroes first.

"Once we did that we were on the crest of a wave going out to Athens so confident.

"In the past we haven't travelled that well but that seems to have changed now, like a lot of things have around the camp. We also won our fourth game against Finland and to come away from the first four games with maximum points was incredible."

Belfast Telegraph