Belfast Telegraph

Big Mac's whopper of a night for Northern Ireland

Beaming Gareth McAuley last night celebrated his first ever international goal and exclaimed: “You have no idea how good a feeling this is.”

The Ipswich Town captain set Northern Ireland on their way last night with a fabulous half volley after only six minutes.

The strike settled the nerves and allowed Nigel Worthington’s men to play their free-flowing football that simply unnerved poor San Marino.

McAuley has been getting plenty of stick from his club manager and former Northern Ireland captain Jim Magilton for not scoring enough goals, so he hopes this will be the first of many for club and country.

“You experience so many emotions out on a football pitch but that has to be the best feeling in the world,” said McAuley, who converted from perfectly placed corner from man of the match Grant McCann.

“I was so happy to see it go into the back of the net.

“All I wanted to do when the ball came over was make sure I got really good contact on it and that’s what happened.”

McAuley, playing at right back before moving into the centre when skipper Aaron Hughes was substituted, was content with his own performance against a side who are still searching for their first competitive win.

And he was extremely happy Northern Ireland recorded their first away victory in two years.

“The conditions didn’t help and the pitch was bumpy but I thought my goal really settled us down,” admitted McAuley.

“We scored three and possibly could have got a few more however we have to be happy with a clean sheet, a win and the fact we are now lying second in the group."

The only downside to the evening was the three bookings to Kyle Lafferty, Steven Davis and George McCartney which rule the trio out of the next World Cup qualifier against Poland next month.

“That was the one bad aspect of the evening,” added McAuley.

“They are three great players and they will be missed next month.

“But hopefully we now have enough strength in depth to cover them.

“This is a squad game and Nigel Worthington has a good panel of players to choose from.”

Belfast Telegraph

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