Belfast Telegraph

We must retain focus and put big guns on back burner: McNair

 

Fully focused: Paddy McNair in action against Estonia’s Mattias Kait on Saturday night in Tallinn
Fully focused: Paddy McNair in action against Estonia’s Mattias Kait on Saturday night in Tallinn

By Paul Ferguson

Fired-up Paddy McNair admits Northern Ireland must completely forget about the glamour ties against Germany and the Netherlands ahead of tonight's clash with Belarus in Borisov.

Michael O'Neill's men, following three victories in Euro 2020 qualifying, top Group C and could create history tonight by becoming the first Northern Ireland side to win their opening four games in a campaign.

With the Netherlands not playing in this set of Euro qualifying fixtures, due to their involvement in the Nations League, Northern Ireland have the opportunity to go nine points clear of their Dutch rivals, who would have two games in hand.

Following tonight's match in Borisov, the men in green are set for four almighty clashes in the autumn against Germany at home in September, the Netherlands away in October and then the Dutch at home and Germans in Frankfurt.

They are the huge games every Northern Ireland international dreams of playing in with the right to reach a major finals.

But 24-year-old McNair, a former Manchester United recruit, acknowledges that those games would become an even greater assignment should Northern Ireland stumble in their mission this evening.

Therefore, all their focus and determination is claiming a victory in Borisov which would hit the target of 12 points from the opening four game.

The Ballyclare man commented: "We've made an unbelievable start to the group - three games, nine points, and if we can win against Belarus and get another three we'll be sitting on 12.

"We play the big boys then and will take it game by game. But with Belarus being such a tough game, I don't think we can think too far ahead."

Versatile Middlesbrough ace McNair retained his position in midfield against Estonia last Saturday after starting in the opening two qualifying games in March.

However, boss Michael O'Neill has intimated, due to the closeness of the two games and the fact the searing heat in Tallinn took it out of the players, he may make changes.

Experienced defender Jonny Evans has stated that he believes Northern Ireland have never enjoyed so much strength in depth throughout the entire squad, and that it is very difficult to guess O'Neill's team selection for each game.

McNair agreed and said: "As long as I'm in it!

"There were lads in Tallinn who didn't even get stripped out, like Paul Smyth and Mark Sykes, they are two brilliant players who are going to be coming through in the next few years.

"That's the thing with Northern Ireland now, we're bringing through a lot of players, especially from the Irish League, they're going over and holding their own in England.

"That's great for the country, it's good for other lads coming through, they can see lads like Gavin Whyte, Paul Smyth, and Mark Sykes going over to England and taking to it like a duck to water."

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