Sunday 22 September 2019

Oliver Norwood: Northern Ireland don't get the credit they deserve

Oliver Norwood is set to win his 50th Northern Ireland cap on Sunday evening
Oliver Norwood is set to win his 50th Northern Ireland cap on Sunday evening

Northern Ireland's achievements over the last three years have been under-appreciated, according to midfielder Oliver Norwood.

Having reached their first major tournament in three decades last summer at Euro 2016, where they made it to the last 16, Michael O'Neill's men will likely have a play-off next month to determine if they will be involved in their first World Cup finals in 32 years.

No Northern Irish side has ever made back-to-back major tournaments and this team was as low as 129th in the world only five years ago.

They are arguably the most improved team in international football in that period since and Norwood, a straight-talker born in Burnley, insists they deserve more recognition.

"To be where we are at is an amazing achievement for this group of players - qualifying for every tournament has to be the aim for Northern Ireland now," he said.

"Everybody wrote us off and said it was a fluke getting to Euro 2016, but it's no fluke getting 21 points from the group.

"We've still not had any credit for what we've done in this campaign so maybe we feel a little bit hard done by. I'm not going to sit here and complain and moan but everyone's been giving credit to other nations when we've done just as well and never got the credit.

"It's up to different people what they want to say and write about, I believe it's credit where credit is due and I think we deserve a bit more credit than we've had.

"We're not fussed, we've gone under the radar again when we've already secured second place so we've done our job. I think we get a lot of credit in Northern Ireland but on the whole..

"We haven't spoken about it but we really think we've worked hard to get ourselves where we are - going from 129th in the world to 20th, it's not easy."

The 26-year-old, eligible for Northern Ireland through his grandfather, is expected to win his 50th cap against Norway on Sunday having made his debut seven years ago.

That was a leaner period in the country's history, when Norwood's club colleagues would be question why he had pledged his allegiance to a nation that were being beaten in Estonia and Luxembourg.

"People were laughing and asking, 'What are you doing playing for them?'," Norwood revealed.

"It never bothered me one bit, I was always proud for my grandparents, I saw how much it meant for them and that's what drove me on.

"I know it sounds silly but once Michael took over you could tell he knew what he was doing, he knew tactically how we were going to do things. He made that clear, he made us aware of where he felt we had gone wrong previously.

"It didn't click straight away but as a group we could see what he was trying to do and the ideas he was trying to get across. We've stuck to the same things then and now and it has paid off."

The transformation under O'Neill may now make Northern Ireland a more attractive proposition for other English-born players, with George Saville and Jordan Jones, who turned his back on the country at youth level in the hope of representing the Three Lions, in this senior squad.

"If we weren't doing as well would Northern Ireland be as appealing? I don't know, I can't answer for other people," Norwood added.

"For me, when the opportunity arose it was a chance to play international football and I think it would be very stupid to turn that opportunity down."

PA Media

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