Belfast Telegraph

We'll make Northern Ireland critics eat their words - Craig Cathcart

By Steven Beacom

Craig Cathcart has hit back at the comments from French legend Alain Giresse, who has dismissed Northern Ireland's chances of making the knockout stages at the Euro 2016 finals.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that the former midfielder, who won the European Championships with his country the last time they were here in 1984, had claimed that Northern Ireland were "technically far too limited" and that Germany, Poland and Ukraine would have too much quality for them in the group stages.

This followed ex-England striker Michael Owen predicting that Michael O'Neill's men would finish bottom of their group.

More: Alain Giresse writes off Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 hopes 

Defender Cathcart, who will be a key figure for Northern Ireland in the tournament, says the team have what it takes to prove the doubters wrong.

He said: "I have been an underdog before with both Northern Ireland and the same at Watford in the Premier League when people wrote us off and when you hear things like that it does spur you on to prove those people wrong. I'm sure that's what we'll do."

Cathcart also stated that suggestions Northern Ireland did not have enough technical ability to make an impact in France were wide of the mark.

"In key positions we have real quality players and the likes of Davo (Steven Davis), Ollie (Norwood) and Wardy (Jamie Ward) are great technicians with the ball, so we have some quality in the positions that you need them in," said Cathcart.

The 27-year-old Watford player added: “We are really confident with the squad we have. We’re in great form, we haven’t lost in 12 games and are raring to go.”

More: Euro 2016: Michael Owen predicts Northern Ireland will finish bottom of group

Whether manager O’Neill opts for a four-man defence or three at the back, the former Manchester United and Blackpool defender will start against Poland on Sunday in Nice after he returned to training yesterday having picked up a knock during Saturday’s scoreless draw in Slovakia.

Defensively the team have been strong for the past 18 months and Cathcart sees no reason why that won’t continue.

“Since I’ve been in the squad, we’ve had a great defence, it’s probably one of the strongest points,” he said. “It’s something we’re really proud of and if you’re not leaking goals you will be hard to beat. I think that was shown in qualifying.

“We had a great defensive record throughout the whole competition and we were clinical in front of goal. I think that’s a perfect recipe to be successful.”

At the weekend, Cathcart will come up against Bayern Munich superstar and striker supreme Robert Lewandowski.

To that end he has been learning a lot about the prolific Poland front man with more to come.

“We’ll be watching a lot of footage of him over the next few days and we’ve done a bit on it already, defensively trying to stop his runs,” said Cathcart.

“Video sessions are a big part of the game now. You have to look at your opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and try to exploit the weaknesses, especially in a tournament like this. It will be the little details that make a big difference. The attention to detail is something that Michael has brought in.

“We get little booklets on all the opposition players. Every player we get a little dossier on and areas to exploit and those are the small percentages that can really help.”

More: Euro 2016: Northern Ireland match tickets on sale for just £7

Asked about Lewandowski’s weaknesses, Cathcart smiled before saying: “To be honest there weren’t many. There were one or two. He switches off at times defensively but in and around the box you have to be very careful with him. If you give him an inch he will score a goal.”

Cathcart has an eye for goal himself as he proved against Finland last year and Wales in March with both strikes coming from set-pieces.

“It has been a big thing for us throughout the qualifying campaign. We have scored a lot of goals that way and off the second phase of set-pieces too,” he added. “You have to try and put the ball in the right area and create a chance.

“We have had success with that in recent times and we want more of that in the finals,” he said, adding that he felt four points would take Northern Ireland into the knockout stages.

“We’re ready for this. There are no big egos in the team, everyone’s down to earth and we all work for each other. Now we want to show everyone what a great team we are.”

Belfast Telegraph