Belfast Telegraph

Michael has made dreams come true: Corry

 

Close call: Corry Evans and Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen
Close call: Corry Evans and Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen

By Paul Ferguson

Battling midfielder Corry Evans says outgoing manager Michael O'Neill has made "dreams come true" during his eight year tenure with Northern Ireland.

Blackburn Rovers ace Evans, along with older brother Jonny, have played a fundamental role during O'Neill's illustrious journey as Northern Ireland boss.

When O'Neill took over at the tail end of 2011, Northern Ireland were in a slump, failing to be competitive in their qualification group.

Within four years of O'Neill's management, Northern Ireland had qualified as group winners for Euro 2016, reached the knock-out stages of the finals and then two years later just missed out on the 2018 World Cup in controversial fashion at the play-off stage. Now, after Saturday's draw with the Netherlands, Northern Ireland are ruled out of automatic qualification for next year's Euro finals, but they still have a chance to reach the football spectacle via the backdoor system, March's play-offs.

And Evans hopes O'Neill's new side, Stoke City will keep to their agreement with the Irish FA and allow the Ballymena man to create yet more magic in Northern Ireland's play-off push and beyond.

Asked if he would like to see O'Neill remain in post next year, Evans' reply is short and to the point: "Yes.

"He's been magnificent for us and has taken us from where we were eight years ago to what we are doing now. We are in contention all the time to qualify and he's been a huge help in our international careers.

"He has helped make dreams come true by reaching major tournaments and even against Holland we are in games against the big nations and we compete against them.

"A lot of that is down to Michael."

Northern Ireland will not know for certain who they will meet in March's play-offs until after tomorrow night's final qualifying games and then the draw takes place on Friday in Nyon.

But Evans, who O'Neill trusts in the middle of the park against the top nations, says having put the Netherlands and Germany on the back foot in their respective games, has given Northern Ireland incredible belief to exceed expectations once again.

"We have shown in the two games against Holland that we are more than a match for them and we have to take confidence from this and carry it forward," admits Evans, who won his 58thcap at Windsor.

"It was similar to the Germany game at Windsor in the first half when we tried to get pressure higher up the pitch and nick the ball.

"When we win the ball higher up the pitch we are closer to the goal to try and score and that created a few chances for us.

"Unfortunately we didn't take our chances again.

"It was similar to the German match."

Evans, who flew out with his team-mates yesterday to Frankfurt, is likely to be given the task of marshalling Germany superstar Toni Kroos again tomorrow night. Evans kept the Real Madrid ace quiet for most of the match at Windsor in September, but even though this game has no major relevance, the former Manchester United reserve team star is expecting a formidable challenge from the Germans, who have qualified alongside the Dutch from Group C.

Evans concludes: "This game is going to be another difficult test for us but we have nothing to lose. We will go there and give it our best shot."

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