Michael O'Neill told Northern Ireland to forget Croatia result - Josh Magennis
Published 16/11/2016 | 07:41
Northern Ireland's players were told by Michael O'Neill that the friendly loss to Croatia would not detract from their memorable 2016, forward Josh Magennis has revealed.
O'Neill's team ended the calendar year on a flat note as, in their 13th and final fixture of 2016, an understrength Croatia ran out 3-0 winners at Windsor Park as the hosts lost in Belfast for the first time since September 2013.
The campaign will be fondly remembered by those of a Northern Irish viewpoint, who saw their country at a major tournament for the first time in three decades, witnessed a record 12-match unbeaten run and saw the renovated Windsor Park christened with two 4-0 successes.
And so in the grand scheme Magennis and his international colleagues were assured by O'Neill that a friendly loss to the Croatians could be quickly forgotten.
"He said, 'Forget about the game - the result can't take away from our incredible year, how memorable it was and how much we all came together as a team'," Magennis said.
"He told us to keep up our form at club level and if you are not in the side, then to be ready if called upon.
"There's competition for places in the Northern Ireland squad now and that's what we as players want. We want to be kept on our toes."
With a victory recorded in the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan four days earlier, O'Neill used the Croatian fixture to run the rule over those he normally calls up but does not call upon.
Alan Mannus, Matthew Lund and Liam Boyce were all starters and Charlton's Magennis, who has only recently established himself as a starter in the Northern Irish team, admits such opportunities are vital for those hoping to catch the eye in limited action.
"There are a lot of the players in the squad who do a lot behind the scenes in training and help us prepare," Magennis added.
"They maybe come away for 10 days and don't see much action. I know what it is like because I was that player a few years ago. These games where you get a start are so important to the players because you itch for a game like this if you are sitting on the bench or coming off the bench. It's a massive thing, playing for your country.
"I'm just so grateful to Michael for giving me a chance in 2016 and I try to take that opportunity every time I go on the pitch for Northern Ireland."
Croatian boss Ante Cacic had left the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic behind and also assessed his squad depth, with O'Neill pointing out that while Cacic could bring on players from Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, he was using substitutes from Shrewsbury and Fleetwood.
The one undoubted star in the visiting side's line-up was Mario Mandzukic and the 30-year-old netted for the 29th time in international football to leave him just 16 behind all-time leading scorer Davor Suker.
"Sixteen goals can seem a little but it can also seem a lot," Cacic said.
"It's very difficult to do that considering everything Suker achieved in his career. They are both very original and hard to compare but I think he has a chance (to beat Suker's total)."