British Isles at Euro 2016 report: Northern Ireland
Lee Gormley | July 11, 2016
Northern Ireland Euro 2016 review
Following the conclusion of a fascinating Euro 2016 this summer, in which Portugal emerged as first-time victors in France, Coral are reviewing each of the British Isles nations’ performances across the Channel.
Firstly, we start with Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland, so read on to see who starred and flopped for the Green and White Army this summer…
Stage of elimination: last 16
Northern Ireland made history by just reaching their first-ever European Championships, but they gave fans even more to be proud of with a gallant run to the last 16 stage, where they were toppled by fellow Home Nation Wales.
O’Neill’s men got off to a poor start when beaten 1-0 by Poland, but they rallied back to an impressive 2-0 triumph over Ukraine before another narrow defeat to world champions Germany.
Their three Group C points meant they edged through as one of the best third-placed nations though, setting up an intriguing clash with Chris Coleman’s Wales in the last 16, but this is where their tournament ended.
How they exited and why
A late own-goal from defender Gareth McAuley in the second-half unfortunately saw the Northern Irishmen’s campaign come to an end, despite having held their own against Gareth Bale and co up to the 75th minute.
It was Real Madrid ace Bale that produced a promising run down the left flank and sent in a dangerous delivery which led to McAuley’s OG, shattering hopes of a quarter-final appearance for the men from Northern Ireland.
In what was quite an ugly game between the pair of Euro debutants, and O’Neill’s outfit perhaps ultimately paid the price for being slightly too negative, though such an approach was understandable against a talented Welsh side.
Star player: Michael McGovern
Goalkeeper Michael McGovern entered Euro 2016 as a free agent after parting ways with Hamilton Academical beforehand, though his superb showings between the sticks for Northern Ireland should see him earn a new club without much hassle.
The 31-year-old’s heroics in goal helped keep his nation’s group goal difference down, with acrobatic displays against Germany and Poland seeing them only lose out 1-0 on both occasions, while he was on hand to keep a clean sheet over Ukraine.
Biggest revelation: Oliver Norwood
McGovern could easily have been cast as Northern Ireland’s star player and biggest revelation this summer, with his gallant performances in goal, but other than the shot stopper, midfielder Oliver Norwood was another that stood out.
The backline all proved doubters wrong over their credentials, but 25-year-old Reading midfielder Norwood enjoyed a strong campaign too, providing the delightful delivery for McAuley’s opener in the group victory over Ukraine.
Flop: Kyle Lafferty
Frontman Kyle Lafferty was they key aspect of Northern Ireland’s successful qualifying campaign, but the Norwich City misfit was unable to transfer that clinical goalscoring form onto the tournament stage.
The former Rangers striker came up against two stern defences in Poland and Germany during the group stage and suffered an injury setback during proceedings, meaning he finished without a single goal to show for.
Managerial performance: Michael O’Neill
Michael O’Neill has seen his stock rise considerably because of Northern Ireland’s international exploits.
The former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers boss will go down in Northern Ireland folklore for his tremendous efforts in guiding the side to their maiden Euro finals, while a gallant run to the last 16 was the icing on an already sweet cake.
There will be no shortage of job offers for the coach from Portadown now, though he may opt to stay put and help try to reach more success in 2018 World Cup qualifying, with Northern Ireland being 7/1 from Coral to book their place in Russia.
Final grade: C
Overall, Northern Ireland treated their fans to an impressive campaign on French soil and, if not not for a late own-goal against Wales, could have even featured in the quarter-finals. Though a last 16 appearance proved they weren’t just there to make up numbers in what was an entertaining summer of football.