Can Northern Ireland Qualify For The Euros?


The last time Northern Ireland qualified for a major tournament was the 1986 World Cup. The last time Northern Ireland fans felt they could qualify for a competition like that was after the Green and White Army’s 3-2 win over Spain – in fact, after that fateful night, we believed we could win the World Cup. However, as so often is the case with Northern Ireland, this shock giant-killing was followed by years of disappointment. Before the qualification stages for Euro 2016, Northern Ireland were recently beaten by the likes of Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. I’m not fooling myself into thinking that Northern Ireland’s lineup is world class, but they should have the beating of teams that are almost entirely made up of postal workers and electricians.

In the first three games of ‘Norn Iron’ ‘s qualifying campaign, there has been a somewhat – particularly judging by my Facebook and Twitter feeds – large shift in the expectations of fans. Yes, we’re accustomed to mediocrity. Yes, our team isn’t one you’d take a second glance at (evidenced by Jonny Evans‘ position as one of our star players), but the Northern Irish public are starting to believe. 

Northern Ireland’s 12th man will be anxiously waiting for the next game against Romania in Bucharest.

Although many will be quick to claim that Northern Ireland isn’t blessed with the most intellectually gifted individuals, they can still take 3 from 10 to deduce that we are still quite a long way from the holy grail of qualification. I personally believe we can do it too, though.

Greece were undoubtedly going to be Northern Ireland’s most formidable opponent, given their decent run in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a competition, which I mentioned before, Northern Ireland haven’t been near for a good 30 years. Although for long periods, particularly in the first half, their backline was ‘backs against the wall’, pushing up and putting the team two goals up over a World Cup-quality side is no mean feat.

Michael O’Neill‘s side proved their toughness (something all Irishmen, whether North or South, are pretty universally known for) in their first qualifying game, too, tearing themselves ahead with two goals in the last ten minutes to get all three points against Hungary. With a win against the Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland showed their ability to make it past the Good, The Bad and the Ugly of their group.

Jamie Ward celebrates after his intuitive finish against Greece.

There’s no lack of mental strength this time around – nor is there a lack of experience. Half of our side could have easily retired years ago (I’m afraid to say it, Chris Baird and Aaron Hughes). Our goalkeepers are decent (who doesn’t remember Roy Carroll?), our back line is pretty good (Gareth McAuley has proven himself pretty handy on either side of the pitch over the last few seasons), while our midfield has the most ‘star power’ humanly possible for a team like Northern Ireland (Chris Brunt and Steve Davis has been pretty consistently solid in the Premier League for a few years now). Yet there’s one pretty obvious problem to solve: do we have a striker worthy of replacing the Holy David Healy on the international stage?

Kyle Lafferty is the obvious choice… he scored against Greece – and it was a decent wee finish – but he’s been pretty universally lauded for long periods for his poor attitude and lack of professionalism (and talent), to the extent where he was shipped out of the Italian Second Division for being a ‘womaniser’. Could his recent goal be a signal of returning form? Possibly. In fact, against Greece, he did play fairly well, with most of Northern Ireland’s play passing through the big man.

6 ft 4 Lafferty could be the man to rise to the occasion and drag Northern Ireland through qualifications.

In fact, in the first three qualifying games, he earned himself three man of the match awards and three goals. So if anyone right now deserves Healy’s crown, it could be Lafferty. Let’s just hope he isn’t as inconsistent as he has for so long proven to be.

If Lafferty keeps up the form he’s enjoyed thus far, and Northern Ireland continue to play with the conviction they have thus far, myself – and the majority of Northern Ireland – will be looking tickets to France in 2016.