Belfast Telegraph

A taste of the big time has left Northern Ireland craving more, says Oliver Norwood

By Laure James

Ollie Norwood has described Northern Ireland's Euro glory as being surreal, yet addictive.

The Brighton midfielder recalled the unforgettable 2-0 win over Ukraine at the Euro 2016 finals as feeling like "an out of body experience", yet despite the unusual stirrings, Norwood refuses to believe qualification for a major finals was a one-off.

"It was very special. You could see that, and to have that amount of fans in the stadium and to witness that, it was like an out of body experience, it was surreal. Really surreal," he said.

"Moments like that are amazing and we want many more like them.

"When Gareth (McAuley) scored, I think most of us celebrated like we were the ones who got the goal.

"It has been a fantastic year, the tournament in the summer was an unbelievable experience and we want more of it.

"We've tasted it now, so we want more.

"We enjoyed the experience of the summer and we've started this campaign really well so if we can win that game in March (at home to Norway), 10 points from the first five games will be good going."

The end to Northern Ireland's history-making year, a 3-0 defeat to Croatia at home, is ironically forgettable.

Yet if Michael O'Neill's troops are to have any chance of maintaining momentum, and their enormous self-belief, matches such as Tuesday night's need to be filed away as momentary, and perhaps even anticipated, blips.

If their record under O'Neill is to be tarnished in any way, sporadic black marks which few seem to care about is nothing to be concerned with.

This week's loss was the heaviest since a 6-0 drubbing away to the Netherlands in June 2012 - and after defeating Azerbaijan by four goals just four days earlier, it was the right time to lose.

Goals from Juventus hitman Mario Mandzukic, Duje Cop and a thunderbolt from Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the win against an understrength Northern Ireland side.

"They punished us," Norwood, who became the go-to man for set-pieces after Chris Brunt was substituted, said.

"It's not like us to concede from set-pieces for the second goal, the first one was a bit of a scramble and the guy tucked it away and the third one, you have to hold your hands up - it was a hell of a strike.

"It's a disappointing result, but it's been a fantastic year for us. What we enjoyed in the summer and the start we've had to the campaign, we can easily forget about this one and move on and look forward to March.

"This result will have no bearing on what happens then. It was all about Friday night, we knew it was important to win that one.

"This was a game we could enjoy. Not enjoy losing, but they're a good team to be fair, they're clinical."

Now sitting second in Group C with everything to play for, Norwood has backed Northern Ireland to achieve what feels like an even bigger dream than the Euros.

"It could go to the wire. You see with Azerbaijan, they hadn't conceded in the first three games but they came here and we tore them apart," he added.

"The Czech Republic are a good side, we don't think we performed as well as we could have out there, but we came away with a draw.

"We have won our two home games, too.

"Obviously Germany will run away with the group, I can't see anyone taking anything from them.

"So now we just have to stay in that second position now and pick up as many points and hopefully it will be enough."

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