Only A Game? - Well done Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis and manager Michael O'Neill are on their way to France after they qualified for their first ever UEFA Euro 2016 finals next summer topping group F. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis and manager Michael O'Neill are on their way to France after they qualified for their first ever UEFA Euro 2016 finals next summer topping group F. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

If I am honest with myself I have nothing but admiration and appreciation for Northern Ireland reaching the finals of Euro 2016 in France.

I am Irish and I support the Republic of Ireland. I’ve only every been to a football match in Windsor Park once and that was to report on Linfield FC versus Derry City in the Setanta Cup several years ago. I don’t support Northern Ireland and I never will but it doesn’t stop me from being able to recognise their achievement as truly magnificent.

I don’t have to be a dyed in the wool Northern Ireland fan to recognise how fantastic a Euro 2016 qualifying campaign they had.

There comes a time when the only option is to respect the achievements of your opponent; to partake in anything else is sour grapes and self-deception.

I’d be shouting from the rooftop of the Guildhall had the Republic of Ireland managed to top their respective group. Unfortunately, the Boys in Green finished third behind Germany and Poland and their only chance of qualification is through the play-offs.

Some have attempted to discredit Northern Ireland’s magnificent campaign by suggesting the group they were in was much weaker than any of the others. As the old saying goes, you can only beat what is in front of you and Northern Ireland did that and should be congratulated for doing so.

Northern Ireland has never reached the finals of the European Championships before. In fact, the last time they reached the finals of a major competition was the World Cup in Mexico in 1986.

No-one could argue that since 1986 the Republic of Ireland has been the stronger of the two teams. Northern Ireland has been extremely poor in recent years and if people are quick to highlight their misgivings, then in the interests of continuity they should be equally quick to highlight their successes.

The rivalry between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland runs much deeper than just football but that does not mean a healthy and jovial level of antagonism cannot exist between the two teams.

It’s naive for a Republic of Ireland supporter from the North to say that he/she has no opinion on the Northern Ireland football team’s achievements. The indifference football fans attempt to show in this situation is contrived.

Derry born footballer, Paddy McCourt, could be in Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad that will travel to France to compete in the final of Euro 2016 next year.

Derry born footballer, Paddy McCourt, could be in Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad that will travel to France to compete in the final of Euro 2016 next year.

There are footballers from Derry currently in the Northern Ireland team and they have helped them qualify for Euro 2016 in France. For anyone to say they don’t have an opinion on a footballer from Derry performing at the top level of international football in Europe is laughable.

Some Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans have more in common than they know. There are some supporters in both camps who have an unhealthy obsession with trivialising everything their rival achieves.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to see your rivals lose but trying to trivialise what a team like Northern Ireland has achieved recently is just ridiculous.

There’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of by admitting that Northern Ireland has done tremendously well to qualify for Euro 2016. If it had have been the Republic of Ireland which topped the group then there would be no shutting us up.

I am not suggesting all Republic of Ireland supporters must publicly acknowledge the feats of their Northern rivals. What I am saying is that they shouldn’t trivialise the achievement because not only will they look absolutely ridiculous but they are being completely hypocritical.