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Sporting flashback: How Northern Ireland became the Kings of Lyon and made amazing memories at Euro 2016

 

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Michael McGovern produced some big displays in goal.

Michael McGovern produced some big displays in goal.

Getty Images

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With sport shut down, we're taking the opportunity to look back at some big days in Northern Ireland's sporting history.

Today it's the turn of Gareth McAuley's heroics at Euro 2016 and the win over Ukraine.

Background

Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait to play at a major tournament when qualifying for Euro 2016. It was a huge success for Michael O'Neill's charges, who performed beyond all expectations and reached the last-16 where they were beaten by Wales. Here, we take a look back at an unforgettable journey for the Green and White Army in France.

McAuley magic

Where else to start but with the Kings of Lyon as Northern Ireland picked up one of their most famous victories in recent memory? Coming up against a formidable Ukraine side at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais knowing that a win would have them on the cusp of the knockouts, it was a pair of international stalwarts that pulled through. First was Gareth McAuley's sensational header, the veteran defender turning in Ollie Norwood's delivery to send the fans into raptures. Then came the clincher, Niall McGinn's acute finish securing a 2-0 win that will live long in the memory of every Northern Ireland supporter.

Backs to the wall

Had it not been for two sensational defensive displays from Michael McGovern in goal, Northern Ireland could have ended the tournament having had a couple of big losses on their card. Instead, they left with their heads held high.

The Norwich stopper ended the group stages as the top goalkeeper based on stats provided by Opta courtesy of a simply outstanding performance in a 1-0 loss to Germany in which he made several outrageous saves.

He and his defence gave Northern Ireland a great chance of squeezing through to the quarter-finals in their knockout tie with Wales too, however they were unfortunate to once again be beaten 1-0 and make their exit, but with hero status intact.

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Michael McGovern produced some big displays in goal.

Michael McGovern produced some big displays in goal.

Getty Images

Michael McGovern produced some big displays in goal.

 

Will Grigg's on fire

It's likely that Will Grigg may well end up being the most popular player from a European Championships despite never playing a minute in France. The striker became known across the continent after the creation of the "Will Grigg's on fire" song by a Wigan fan, which the Northern Ireland support brought to Euro 2016. It picked up so much traction that German defender Mats Hummels was asked about it before the two teams' group clash, while opposition fans were even heard singing it. "It's been sung a few times," captain Steven Davis said during the tournament. "I think the lads are maybe getting a bit fed up with it now!"

GAWA

The fans travelled in their thousands for Northern Ireland's four games, taking over each of Nice, Lyon and Paris for each match day. Such was their enthusiasm and popularity, they were an instant hit with opposition fans wherever they went, while the foreign media lined up to write features on them. USA Today and The Guardian were among the publications to run pieces on the support, while the fans made such an impact on the French capital that they, along with those from the Republic, were awarded the Medal of the City of Paris for their "exemplary behaviour" during the tournament.

Belfast Telegraph