Green and White Army daring to dream again after Estonia win

Northern Ireland fans during Saturday night's European Championship qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn
Northern Ireland fans during Saturday night's European Championship qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn
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‘Good times never seemed so good’ – as the lyrics of the Northern Ireland fans’ anthem proudly proclaim – could not be more appropriate as the momentum under manager Michael O’Neill continues to build.

Those long years in the footballing wilderness are fading fast from the memory as the Green and White Army celebrates another European Championship qualifier success away in Estonia.

Northern Ireland fans at Saturday night's UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn.    Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland fans at Saturday night's UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

The 2-1 victory in Tallinn makes it three wins out of three for Northern Ireland in Group C and suddenly an unprecedented four in a row at the start of a qualifying campaign looks possible.

It opens up the tantalising prospect of qualification for a second successive Euro finals after the heroics in France in 2016.

Second half goals from substitutes Conor Washington and Josh Magennis on Saturday sent the 1,200 travelling supporters into raptures following a disjointed first period for the visitors.

With much tougher tests to come against Holland and the mighty Germany no-one is getting carried away, but the loyal fans have been rewarded with a new sense of belief in a team that is tearing up the Northern Ireland form book.

Northern Ireland fans Gavin Weir and Jeff Partridge at Saturday nights UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn.  Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland fans Gavin Weir and Jeff Partridge at Saturday nights UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Almost unthinkable a decade ago, Michael O’Neill’s men have now twice come from behind to win a competitive game away from home – the last time being the 2-1 victory away in Budapest in 2014.

Another interesting feature of Saturday’s success was that two Northern Ireland substitutes scored in a game for the first time since a Windsor Park encounter with Denmark in October 1978 – a promising sign that the squad has more strength in depth that for many years as the unbeaten run in European qualifying games stretches to nine matches.

Gary McAllister of the AONISC (Amalgamation of NI Supporters Clubs) has made the trip to Estonia and is now on his way to tomorrow’s game in Belarus with a 600-strong Green and White Army.

He said: “The jubilation as they were making their way out of the stadium and back to the centre of Tallinn was amazing. The Estonian people have been fantastic. They were very welcoming and were very gracious in defeat.”

Northern Ireland fans Adam Wing, Danny McGrattan, Scott Gray and Gareth McGrattan at Saturday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn.  Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland fans Adam Wing, Danny McGrattan, Scott Gray and Gareth McGrattan at Saturday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier against Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena, Tallinn. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

The AONISC chairman said around half of the 1,200 fans are now making their way to Belarus for Tuesday’s match.

“Tuesday will be a difficult game but the win over Estonia has given everyone a spring in their step and a belief that we can go and win it.”

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern also made the trip to Estonia. He said Michael O’Neill deserves credit for instilling a sense of belief in his players.

“The fighting spirit is there again, and I think it’s really exciting that we can go away from home and win. There are tougher games ahead, but to be in this position is fantastic,” he said.

Michael O’Neill and Stuart Dallas pay respects to Joey Dunlop in Estonia