Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland must stay on top before Holland and Germany come to town: O'Neill

 

Happy days: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill and McDonald’s Football Ambassador Pat Jennings join pupils from Fane Street Primary School at the launch of the McDonald’s Fun Football Initiative yesterday
Happy days: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill and McDonald’s Football Ambassador Pat Jennings join pupils from Fane Street Primary School at the launch of the McDonald’s Fun Football Initiative yesterday

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill believes momentum is with his Northern Ireland team in the Euro 2020 qualifiers and that they can make it count in the next double header in June.

Having beaten Estonia and Belarus at Windsor Park, O'Neill now wants two more victories against the Group C lesser lights before campaign defining clashes with Germany and Holland in September, October and November.

Northern Ireland are top of the table right now and O'Neill is intent on being in that position when Joachim Low's side arrive in Belfast in six months time.

Speaking at the launch of the McDonald's Fun Football Initiative in Belfast, O'Neill said: "Our objective is to try and stay top of the group until the big guns come to town and when we have to go to Holland and Germany.

"If you have that little points gap between you and the bigger nations when you play them, a massive result can help us get one of the top two positions in the group."

Reflecting on the recent victories, O'Neill said: "I'm delighted with how things went in our first two games in qualifying.

"We were tested with injuries and we weren't as strong on the bench as we could have been, so it was great to get through the games the way we did. We had a lot of control in the games and the results give us a real platform for the rest of the campaign.

"The June games will be difficult because the players are out of season. We have to manage them, but once you get off and running in a campaign it is far easier.

"We have witnessed that in the last two campaigns. We topped the qualifying group for the Euro 2016 finals for France and we were second in our World Cup group for Russia and the start will give us a lot of confidence.

"The main thing is when September, October and November come around we are playing in massive games with an opportunity to go to the finals."

At yesterday's launch of the McDonald's initiative, run in conjunction with the Irish FA, O'Neill and Northern Ireland's most capped player Pat Jennings enjoyed watching children from Fane Street school in Belfast participate in a series of drills and small-sided games at the Olympia Leisure Centre.

The Northern Ireland boss encouraged parents across the country to get their kids involved. Over the next month across the UK there will be more than 700 free football sessions for five to 11-year-olds.

O'Neill said: "It is important for kids to be involved in the McDonald's Fun Football initiative. Kids don't play the same way as when I was younger, when we played football all the time.

"There are so many more options for children and many more sports, so it's vital that when they are exposed to football that the experience they have initially is one that they enjoy."

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