JIM BOYCE: Squad’s success has done more to unite NI than many politicians

Northern Ireland's Steve Davis celebrates his two goals that secured victory against Greece on Thursday night
Northern Ireland's Steve Davis celebrates his two goals that secured victory against Greece on Thursday night

I always felt that NI would go through to the finals of the European Championship, even yesterday morning.

I was convinced. They needed two points out of two games to get through to the finals and, quite honestly, I was always very confident they would get them.

Jim Boyce

Jim Boyce

Having been in Greece, seen the Greek team, and the way the Northern Ireland team have bonded and played over that whole tournament – even though there were key players missing – I still honestly felt with the crowd behind them, they’d win. They weren’t going to blow this one.

I was privileged to be there at Windsor Park when NI had the nights when they qualified for the finals of the World Cup prior to‘82 and ‘86. The atmosphere was just phenomenal.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is that Michael O’Neill has got the team playing the way Billy Bingham (the manager during the ‘80s) had them playing in the past – they aren’t a team of stars, but he’s got them playing as a team who are bonding together.

I remember the nights at Windsor Park when we beat England, when we beat Spain. But there’s nothing to beat getting to a major final. I think it’s given the whole country a big lift.

I think those players on Thursday night, and the people involved in the game, do more to bring people in this country together than many politicians have done over the years. I make no apology for saying that.

Here you had a team, and it didn’t matter about religion or what church you went to. They went out, played together, and played together as friends.

I think that’s very much what epitomises the spirit of that team, and what’s been achieved.

Jim Boyce was IFA president of 12 years, and a former FIFA vice-president