Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Latvia: First Carl Frampton and Gary Lightbody, now Rory McIlroy is on the hit list

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill thought about everything during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign - including bringing some superstar supporters to the team hotel to spend time with his players.

The team loved chatting and getting to know world champion boxing hero Carl Frampton and Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody, both proud Northern Ireland fans.

At the press conference on the eve of tonight's friendly at home to Latvia, I asked O'Neill if there were any more big names in line for a meet and greet with our football heroes before or even during the tournament in France next year.

Northern Ireland's Major winning golfers appear to be on the list, including Rory McIlroy, who of course was at Windsor Park last month to see O'Neill's side qualify with a 3-1 win over Greece.

"It would be nice to see someone like Rory or one of the golfers because the boys are keen golfers," said O'Neill.

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"It is something all of Northern Ireland sport can get involved in and enjoy. Certainly if there is anyone that can lend a hand we will look at that."

Rory, Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell would all make interesting company for the team, as would jump jockey legend Tony McCoy, a keen football fan himself.

The Euro 2016 finals are going to be so big, what about inviting Ballymena-born actor and Hollywood star Liam Neeson over for a chat as well?

In the meantime, the Northern Ireland players intend backing Frampton in February against Scott Quigg in Manchester in their world title fight.

O'Neill said: "The players are already talking about going to Carl's fight in Manchester to get behind him. He has been a great supporter for us and we want to repay him by backing him all the way against Scott Quigg."

Belfast Telegraph