EURO 2016 COMMENT: Dreams can come true

Northern Irelands' Josh Magennis celebrates a memorable night all around
Northern Irelands' Josh Magennis celebrates a memorable night all around

October 8, 2015 - remember the date.

It was a mild Thursday evening in south Belfast when dreams finally came true.

The running theme in the build-up to last night’s game at Windsor Park was ‘dare to dream’.

Northern Ireland stood on the cusp of history as they sought the win needed to qualify for a first-ever European Championship.

Their last appearance in a major finals came almost 30 years ago when Billy Bingham’s side reached the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Since then it has been three decades of hurt for the Green and White Army.

Since those halcyon days of the Eighties Northern Ireland fans have had their misty-eyed dreams shattered.

Until now.

A clinical brace from ‘Captain Marvel’ Steven Davis and a first international goal from Josh Magennis sealed a 3-1 win over the Greeks.

On a night of raw tension Northern Ireland excelled to book their place in France.

One pressing question leading up to the game was where the goals would come from?

Who would fill the boots of suspended talisman Kyle Lafferty?

Skipper Davis touched on that very subject during his press conference on Wednesday.

“It’s time for a new hero to step up,” he said.

Last night Davis became one of those heroes - the Southampton star led by example with two clinical goals.

Magennis - who was picked to replace Lafferty in attack - had the weight of a nation on his shoulders.

The Kilmarnock forward - a converted goalkeeper who had never scored an international goal before - defied the doubts and critics to head home Northern Ireland’s second goal of the night.

It was sandwiched between Davis’ brace - the first in a close-range finish in the 35th minute, followed by an instinctive looping header in the 58th.

But it would be unfair to single out just two players.

The 14 men O’Neill turned to last night should be bestowed with praise, and the other squad members who have played their part in this mesmerising Euro campaign.

Now O’Neill will turn his focus to Sunday’s final qualifier with Finland in Helsinki, and the chance to win the group.

And who would have predicted that before a ball was kicked in earnest 13 months ago?