Belfast Telegraph

Togetherness has been key to Northern Ireland success, says Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill believes the togetherness of his Northern Ireland squad has played an important role in their superb showing so far in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Northern Ireland have won four out of their five Group F games and currently lie in second place just one point adrift of table topping Romania, who are the opposition at Windsor Park on Saturday night.

The June 13 date for the game would normally mean problems for Northern Ireland because historically the team has had a dreadful record this month, often caused by big name stars withdrawing from the panel.

There have been no issues this time for O'Neill with the latter and he is confident that the infamous 'June jinx' won't strike his side.

O'Neill called up 28 players for the recent friendly with Qatar and last week's 'training match' against the Republic, which both ended in draws, and every single player was available.

He has since released three players, but the remaining 25 are all ready, fit and firing for the top of the table encounter with Romania.

Asked about how pleased he was that everyone had turned up for the end of season internationals, unlike in the past, O'Neill said: "I think we are in a different place now.

"These games are never easy because players are at the back of a long season but equally they know what they are coming into and to be fair their application has been superb.

"This is a group of players who seem to enjoy being away with each other. There is a real togetherness in the group. We had four good days in Manchester ahead of the Qatar game and four good days in Dublin prior to the Republic match at the Aviva and preparation could not have gone any better."

On the shocking record in June, which has seen Northern Ireland lose EIGHT out of their last 10 games in the sixth month of the year, O'Neill says talk of a 'June jinx' means nothing to him.

"I'm not concerned about that. I'm not superstitious in any shape or form. Things like that aren't important to me."

He added: "People talk about our friendly record and us not having won friendlies for a long time, but we haven't played any friendlies at home in that time. We aren't concerned about that.

"We have won four out of five games in qualification and we are hoping to make it five out of six against Romania.

"Looking ahead to Romania we are in decent shape and relishing the game. For the Qatar and Republic games we had a 28-man squad in total and we had no withdrawals which tells you everything you need to know about the morale of the squad at this moment in time.

"Our aim is to get the three points because that would put us in a very, very strong position and it is nice for us to have this game at home to have the opportunity to do that. Regardless of what happens we will still be second in the group, but we will be preparing with the aim to win the game."

Northern Ireland, on 12 points, are four ahead of third-placed Hungary but the Northern Ireland boss doesn't feel that the pressure is off for Saturday's match with the group leaders.

"We would never approach it that way. Not at all. We want to keep the momentum going and get ourselves in a strong position. The more points you get early on, the more breathing space you give yourself at the tail end of the group," he said.

Northern Ireland's players are due to meet up again tomorrow having been given a short break after the 90 minutes against Martin O'Neill's side in Dublin.

Romania will arrive in Belfast later this week and they hope to have captain Razvan Rat and playmaker Lucian Sanmartean with them.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed on Saturday that major injury doubts Rat and Sanmartean, two of Romania's most influential players, were sent to see controversial female healer Mariana Kovacevic. The Serbian physiotherapist has treated numerous well known footballers, and injects horse placenta as one of her remedies.

Belfast Telegraph