Belfast Telegraph

The perfect night as our boys gear up for Euro adventure

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill described last night's 3-0 victory over Belarus at Windsor Park as the perfect send-off for his team on their way to the Euro 2016 finals in France.

Kyle Lafferty and Conor Washington scored in the first half and Will Grigg added number three in the dying minutes as the Green and White Army celebrated another memorable evening.

The last 18 months has been full of them.

Northern Ireland are now 11 matches unbeaten and will aim to keep that run going away to Slovakia next Saturday in their final friendly prior to the tournament.

After the victory over Belarus, O'Neill addressed the packed stadium thanking the Green and White Army for their support and vowing that the team would do everything they could to be a success in France.

The lap of honour that followed was richly deserved on the back of a stunning period for Northern Ireland football ... and what a way to sign off from Windsor in their last home match ahead of taking on Poland, Ukraine and Germany in the country's first major competition for 30 years.

"It was the perfect night," said the inspirational O'Neill, who started with a 3-5-2 formation.

"It was great to see Kyle, Conor and then Will score and I felt we looked comfortable playing three at the back.

"I wanted us to win with a good performance and that's exactly what we did."

O’Neill had special words of praise for Grigg, who netted his first international goal.

“I felt when I took the job he was a player that had real capability to push on and become a key player,” O’Neill said.

“It’s taken longer than maybe I thought at the time. He had a great season for his club, is going to the Championship and hopefully he can continue. It was great for him to get a goal.”

O’Neill will announce his 23-man squad for France today, with Michael Smith, Daniel Lafferty, Ben Reeves, Billy McKay and Liam Boyce all expected to miss out from the original 28-man panel.

With fireworks after the game and the players full of smiles as they left Windsor, O’Neill said: “There was a good atmosphere during the game.

“As I said to the players before the game, we have a responsibility to put on a performance. We’re normally the warm-up act for countries going to the finals so it’s nice to be in the position we’re in and for the players to realise that and grasp that opportunity they had. They did that.”

Belfast Telegraph