Evans pair set to join select band of Euro brothers
Thousands of Northern Ireland fans will descend on the sun-soaked city of Nice this weekend as the excitement builds ahead of the country's first game at a leading tournament for 30 years.
It promises to be a special occasion for all involved, but for the Evans family, tomorrow's match against Poland at the Allianz Riviera will carry a particular resonance.
Jonny and Corry Evans are braced to join a select band of brothers who have appeared together at a European Championship, the culmination of a remarkable journey from the tough Rathcoole estate in north Belfast, via Manchester United and a series of international setbacks that, on occasion, left them wondering if it was a waste of time.
For elder sibling Jonny, who is three years Corry's senior and now with West Brom, the significance has only just started to sink in.
"I was with Darren Fletcher as we drove down to training at West Brom the other week, talking about his twin boys," the defender, 28, explained.
"I said, 'When they're footballers. . .' and Darren turned to me and said, 'Jonny, that might never happen. You don't realise how fortunate your parents are that they've got two sons both playing at a very good level and going to the Euros'.
"It hit home to me then how fortunate we are. But we have worked hard to get where we are, we were always out playing football anywhere we could, the street, wherever."
They will be one of five pairs of brothers in this tournament, only the 17th to grace the Euros going back 40 years, and as they reflect on their lives over the course of an entertaining half-hour when their natural chemistry shines through, there is a clear sense of debt to their parents, Jackie and Dawn, who gave up so much to help their football careers.
"I think it's a relief for them we both made it," says Corry, a midfielder with Blackburn Rovers who left United for Hull City in 2011 after failing to emulate his brother by breaking into the Old Trafford first team.
"Jonny was playing from an early age for United and won the Championship with Sunderland.
"I was younger, coming through, and there was a chance I wouldn't make it. But they always had belief in me and it's probably a relief that Mum and Dad don't have to deal with the disappointment of myself not making it. They can be proud of what they've raised."
Jonny was 15 and had agreed a scholarship with United, and Corry 12, when Jackie and Dawn decided to leave Belfast for Sale in Manchester. Jackie gave up a good job making aircraft wings for Bombardier Aerospace, enrolled in Crewe and Alsager College and later got a sports and business degree from Manchester University.
Jonny made his international debut at left-back in a 3-2 win against Spain at Windsor Park in 2006. Corry's bow came against Italy in Pisa three years later, but Jonny does not mind admitting that the lows he experienced with Northern Ireland had left him feeling it was all "a bit of a drag".
"The lows had a big effect on me," he said. "Me and Corry have spoken about this. It makes such a difference that we're going away and not just to waste time, you're going to try to achieve something." (© Daily Telegraph, London)