Friday 20 October 2017

McAuley: Mentality in Northern Ireland squad is completely different now

Gareth McAuley believes Northern Ireland's mentality has changed in recent years
Gareth McAuley believes Northern Ireland's mentality has changed in recent years

Gareth McAuley would see no reason for Michael O'Neill's focused Northern Ireland squad to party like they used to if they beat Germany on Thursday.

The reigning world champions head to Belfast having never lost a World Cup qualifier away from home in their entire history.

No wonder then that McAuley, who made his international bow against the same opponents 12 years ago, would consider a historic victory the most significant of his Northern Irish career.

It would confirm a play-off place for Northern Ireland and even leave them with a possibility of overhauling Joachim Low's side into Group C's top spot during the final round of games.

And with a clash against Norway in Oslo three days later, McAuley insists attention would soon turn to what comes next.

"It would probably be the biggest result that I'll have had in international football," the 37-year-old said.

"The pure stat they've never lost a World Cup qualifier away from home is ridiculous really.

"It would be incredible (but) I'll be looking straight to the Norway game and thinking about getting a result there and recovering to do that.

"I think that's a big thing over the last few years, if we got a result like that (in the past) we'd have probably hit the town and celebrated and thought happy days!

"But now there's a completely different mentality within the group, we'd be looking straight into the Norway game.

"With the results and everything that comes with it, everyone wants to be successful and wants the good times to continue."

The good times are all the sweeter for McAuley given he was a regular when Northern Ireland slunk to 129th in the world, below Niger, Turkmenistan and New Caledonia.

At that point, featuring in a major international tournament in his career must have been unthinkable. Yet there is now a very real possibility McAuley is part of the first Northern Irish side to reach back-to-back finals.

If they do not, he and a few other veterans will have a decision to make next month about whether they prolong their international careers or call it a day.

O'Neill has already said he would be "begging" McAuley to continue, yet there have been no conversations about his future yet and the defender admits his first focus has to be on playing regularly for his club side West Brom.

McAuley has played just 62 minutes of senior football this season having recovered from a thigh injury and he was not even in the matchday squads for the Baggies' past two Premier League fixtures.

"For me, I need to get back to playing club football," he added.

"if I'm not playing club football then there's not even a conversation to be had.

"My first priority is to get back fully fit and challenge for a place in the team at West Brom. When that time comes, we'll cross that bridge."

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