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Special bond between players is the secret behind our success, maintains McNair

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Breaking through: Paddy McNair in control against Belarus

Breaking through: Paddy McNair in control against Belarus

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Breaking through: Paddy McNair in control against Belarus

Paddy McNair believes the bond between the Northern Ireland players off the pitch is an inspiration on it.

The Middlesbrough ace was outstanding on Sunday night as Michael O'Neill's side defeated Belarus 2-1 at Windsor Park to move to the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group.

With the more experienced Oliver Norwood and Corry Evans unavailable in midfield over the past week, O'Neill put his faith in McNair despite the 23-year-old's limited game time at club level.

Ballyclare man McNair didn't disappoint. He was industrious in Thursday's 2-0 victory against Estonia and even more influential versus Belarus, delivering a pinpoint cross for Josh Magennis to score the winner with just three minutes left in the game.

Former Manchester United ace McNair is a popular member of the squad with his team-mates and, in turn, he feels the close relationship between players is key to Northern Ireland's success.

"I think it helps that all the lads are close friends and we definitely bring that onto the pitch," said McNair.

"It was a tough game against Belarus. I thought we played really well in the first half and deservedly took the lead through Jonny Evans.

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"They got back into it with a lucky goal and in the second half we found it hard to break them down, but we kept going and managed to break through towards the end and get the winner."

McNair will now aim to build up his minutes with Middlesbrough, but there is a sense that he is already relishing the prospect of taking on Estonia and Belarus again in June - this time on the road - before next season Germany and Holland will be the opposition in the qualifiers.

"I love playing for Northern Ireland and I thought I played well over both games. I felt quite fit as well considering the club situation. The main thing was to get the six points and it is the perfect week," stated McNair.

"I just have to keep my head down at club level and keep working away and with Northern Ireland we'll look forward to June.

"Hopefully we can build on these two wins, get another two, and then we take on the big guns in Holland and Germany in September, October and November. I think that will then decide our fate."


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