Belfast Telegraph

Corry Evans: Northern Ireland's mentality has changed for games against smaller nations

 

Lead role: Corry Evans will captain Northern Ireland at Windsor for the first time
Lead role: Corry Evans will captain Northern Ireland at Windsor for the first time
Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Corry Evans has revealed that a change of mindset has transformed Northern Ireland's fortunes against smaller nations.

When Blackburn Rovers midfielder Evans made his international debut a decade ago, it was commonplace for Northern Ireland to lose or draw against countries they ought to have beaten.

The 29-year-old was an unused substitute on the infamous night Northern Ireland lost 3-2 to Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier during Michael O'Neill's first campaign in charge back in September 2013.

Since then, O'Neill's team have shown a ruthless nature and beaten so called lesser lights that have come their way.

Look at the Euro 2020 qualifying group, for example, with four victories out of four against Estonia and Belarus ahead of the bigger battles with Germany and Holland.

Tonight, Evans will captain the national side at Windsor Park for the first time and he is determined that Northern Ireland maintain their fine form in the friendly with Luxembourg.

"We used to have a reputation of being beaten by smaller teams and defeating the bigger nations," recalls Evans.

"Thankfully, though, now we have a good record against the smaller nations. It is about having the right mentality going into those games as they are just as important as the ones with bigger countries.

"Michael has done a lot of work with that and about why we have to finish top of mini groups in qualifying to have a chance of making the finals of tournaments. Things like that help."

O'Neill has made no bones about the fact that Monday's Group C clash with Germany is all important, though Evans says that doesn't mean the Luxembourg friendly isn't a useful exercise.

"It has been shown in past campaigns how important momentum is," adds the former Hull City ace, who has won 53 caps.

"Having momentum has helped us massively and we'll be looking for another good result against Luxembourg before the Germany game.

"I think for the likes of myself and a few of the boys who haven't played much club football, it gives us an opportunity to get up to match speed and prepare right for Monday."

On being skipper, Evans, younger brother of defender Jonny, stated: "I'm delighted. I captained the team in Bosnia for my 50th cap, so it will nice to do it at Windsor for the first time. It is a great honour to captain your country."

Evans, who started his career at Manchester United, is a man who never lets his nation down.

He has a fantastic work-rate and better quality on the ball than he is given credit for.

O'Neill knows he can rely on the Blackburn player and recognises what he brings to the squad.

"Corry has always done a great job for me," said the Northern Ireland boss.

"Sometimes he has missed out on games where he has probably deserved to play but he gets on with it. It is testament to his career that he has got as many caps as he has and he will play on for number of years.

"He plays with no fuss and has played in a range of positions, including wing-back in South America.

"When you have a player like that, that's what you need. He is well respected by everyone in the changing room and by the staff."

Evans is now one of Northern Ireland's longest serving performers and adds: "I am one more year away from the big 30. Aaron Hughes is gone now and G (Gareth McAuley) isn't in this squad. Also Brunty (Chris Brunt) and Chris Baird aren't around anymore so I am one of the senior players.

"I feel I have a lot of experience and caps under my belt. We have a lot of young players coming through now. I used to be that young player and if I can help them in any way, I will try to do that."

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