Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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I'd love to score goal that takes Northern Ireland to the World Cup: Magennis

N Ireland vs Switzerland; World Cup Play-Off First Leg; Windsor Park, Tomorrow, 7.45pm

By Graham Luney

Josh Magennis is trying to keep a lid on his excitement, but he's destined to fail in that mission with Northern Ireland tantalisingly close to making the World Cup finals in Russia.

By his own admission, his career has been a "rollercoaster", and the biggest high could be just around the corner.

The switch from goalkeeper to striker while at Cardiff City is well documented, but the Bangor man has continued to win new admirers with his growing maturity and composure on the international stage.

He's been a key piece in Michael O'Neill's jigsaw as the Northern Ireland boss has set about assembling another major miracle.

Magennis was on target in the 3-1 Euro 2016 qualifying victory over Greece at Windsor Park which set the Green and White Army marching towards France, and he would love to make another big impact in the World Cup play-off battles with Switzerland.

The Swiss will be at fortress Windsor Park for the opener tomorrow night and they will face a green tide determined to destroy everything in its path.

"It is massive," said Magennis. "It's been a rollercoaster of a career and a lot of people have had their opinions about me.

"There have been doubts cast over my career, especially from my early days and going from being a goalkeeper to being a striker. I'm not the most technically gifted of players, but my attitude has got me as far as I can go and I have been able to maximise the most of my ability.

"In my head, that's enough. I don't go looking for accolades or acceptance. I just have confidence in my ability. And to say that you've played for your country, and then to say you've gone to a European Championship and hopefully a World Cup, it's the stuff of dreams.

"It's something you dream about as a kid, and to do it with this group of players would be nothing short of amazing.

"I feel I've improved a lot over this campaign. Technically I've learned a lot. Game knowledge and understanding, a lot of which has come from Michael O'Neill. I don't want to sound arrogant, but it's been a nice steady progression.

"And I don't want to stop. I want to keep progressing and see how far my career takes me. I don't want any regrets when I retire."

And what about the prospect of scoring another huge goal, how would he be able to keep his emotions in check?

"It would be mad," he said. "The boys keep saying, 'Are you going to cry again? What's next?'.

"It's the stuff of dreams. To score in the play-off to send Northern Ireland to the World Cup, or even play in a winning team, would be unbelievable.

"I don't even have the emotion to describe it. I don't know what I would do. It would be fantastic. As a striker you want to score in every game. To be on the scoresheet, home or away, would be absolutely brilliant. Even if it went in off my toe, or glanced off any hair I have left, it would be amazing."

Magennis is also thrilled to see Jamie Ward and Paddy McNair returning to fitness and back in the squad.

"It's brilliant Jamie is back," he said. "Everyone sees the commitment he plays with, especially for Northern Ireland.

"His energy is infectious, and he's a big personality in camp. He's vocal in the changing room, and it is great having him back. And also Paddy, that quality. It adds strength in depth and nobody, apart from maybe one or two, can be assured of a starting slot.

"Not taking away from the players' individual quality, but the fundamentals of how this Northern Ireland team plays don't change. How we set up and how Michael sets us up, there are no ifs or buts.

"There is never a time when I have gone onto the pitch wondering what my role is. Everyone who takes to that pitch knows what they have to do.

"As well as having good individual quality, the way we are set up is a big reason to our success. There is no stone left unturned."

Magennis doesn't believe the Swiss will feel deflated after just missing out on automatic qualification and admits it feels strange to be going into a play-off on the back of two losses.

"It might have been difficult for them to accept at the time, but I think with the calibre of player they have and how professional they are they'll be ready for this play-off," he added. "We don't expect them to be looking for sympathy or anything like that. We're looking forward to playing a top Swiss side at full strength.

"For us, the game against Germany was always going to be difficult getting anything out of that.

"Then we went away to Norway which was slightly strange. We knew Scotland hadn't qualified so we had our play-off spot secured. It didn't make us any less professional, but we knew we had accomplished our mission, and it was about going out and putting the cherry on top of the cake.

"There were no excuses on the night. Norway were a bit better than us and got their goal. There were no celebrations in the changing room afterwards. We just got beat and it was disappointing.

"Northern Ireland teams aren't used to getting beaten back-to-back in recent years. So we had to make sure we dusted ourselves down for this play-off and got ready to go again."

Belfast Telegraph

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