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Wales v Northern Ireland: Classy Craig Cathcart relishing Wembley and Euro double

By Steven Beacom

Craig Cathcart is having a season to savour and the best is still to come.

For club, the 27-year-old defender has enjoyed a stunning campaign, playing a key role in keeping Watford in the Premier League and taking them to the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley against Crystal Palace.

For country, the ex-Manchester United ace helped Northern Ireland reach the Euro 2016 finals, playing in the epic home victory over Greece in October which sealed the nation's place in France and scoring the goal in the 1-1 draw in Finland which ensured Michael O'Neill's men topped their qualifying group.

Come the summer, given his impressive form, Cathcart has every chance of starting Northern Ireland's group games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany and may arrive at the finals on the back of FA Cup glory.

Ahead of tomorrow's friendly in Wales, Cathcart said of Watford: "I've played the majority of the games when I've been fit. The team's doing well, we've got a good structure and the defence get a lot of protection which has helped. We've performed brilliantly throughout the whole season.

"Staying up has always been our main priority, but getting a win away at Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals was a big thing for the club.

"We had 8,500 fans in the away end that day and you could see what it meant to reach the semi-finals. I'm sure everyone is going to enjoy Wembley.

"I have never played there so hopefully if I get a run out this time it's going to be a brilliant experience," added Cathcart, who likened this season's Premier League to the Championship in terms of unpredictability.

On Northern Ireland, and facing Wales in the first of four friendly fixtures ahead of the Euro finals, Cathcart said: "It's a game we can look forward to against a good Wales team who've qualified for France as well. It's probably going to be an even game, and a difficult game which is going to be good for us. We need tough games to prepare for the tournament.

"In France we won't be going just to make up the numbers. We will try and do what we've done throughout the campaign and win every game and see how far we can get."

Asked how he feels about facing big hitters such as Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, Cathcart's response was emphatic.

He said: "It's nothing to worry about. You have to look forward to playing against the top teams. That's what you are in football for. You want to play at the highest level against the best players.

"I'm really looking forward to the challenge against the top strikers in the world.

"It's going to be a really good experience."

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