Baird sees Euros on the horizon
Published 11/06/2015 | 17:21
Chris Baird claims Northern Ireland can "see the finishing line" as they look to book their place at a first ever European Championship.
Michael O'Neill's side have been a revelation in Euro 2016 qualifying, winning four of their first five games to sit second in Group F.
Their only setback thus far came in March when they lost 1-0 in Romania, but success in the return fixture on Saturday would leave them in a handsome position with four matches remaining.
It is three decades since Northern Ireland last appeared on the big stage, at the 1986 World Cup, and Baird is starting to believe that long absence could soon be at an end.
"To qualify for a first major tournament in 30 years, a first Euros ever, would be massive not just for us but for the whole country," said Baird.
"Hopefully things are looking up for us. Now that we're in this position we can see the finishing line in front of us and we want to get there sooner rather than later.
"The right result on Saturday puts us in a phenomenal position with the next two fixtures away to the Faroe Islands and home to Hungary.
"It's working out for us. We're concentrating solely on this one because if we get that right result we're in an unbelievable place.
"We know we can get victory in the Faroes, that's for sure, so if we had two wins from our next two games that's us pretty much qualified.
"That's my personal opinion and I think all the players would agree.
"We're ready for it."
Baird is one of a handful of Northern Ireland thirty-somethings alongside Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Steven Davis, Roy Carroll and Chris Brunt.
Most of them have seen more disappointments than glory days in their international careers, but are now buoyed by the chance of a crowning achievement in France next year.
"We've had many bad times, the likes of myself, Gareth, Brunty, Aaron... we've been there, done it and failed many times," Baird added.
"But the confidence in this group, with the start we've made, you can see that in training and on the pitch. It's massive for us.
"Obviously we had a setback in Romania but we came back and beat Finland and we're still right on track for what we want to achieve.
"The experienced ones are helping along some of the younger ones, who are doing fantastically well and helping us out too.
"They know themselves about the failures and what's gone beforehand, some of them probably watched it, but things are turning on their head.
"It's a good mixture we have and it's working well at the minute."
Saturday's game will take place a Windsor Park Stadium in the throes of reconstruction.
Just two stands will be operational for the visit of Romania, with a capacity of 10,000, after the Kop Stand was torn down due to structural faults found in the aftermath of March's victory over Finland.
It will be an unusual backdrop for Brunt to make his 50th appearance, but the occasion is not one that has been on the West Brom man's mind.
The captain's armband is typically offered to player's when they make their half-century, but Brunt is minded to follow the example of his West Brom team-mate McAuley, who turned down the honour.
"Davo (Steven Davis) is the captain and I'm happy with that. I'm just one of the team," he said.
"It's not something I'm overly fussed about anyway. It's something you don't think about too much when you start playing, if you get 50 caps you're delighted but the way things have panned, injuries and the rest, I'm pretty fortunate to be up there.
"I'm just proud to be out there and to get 50 caps. I don't have to mark it with an armband, as long as we mark it with three points that'll do me."