During the last few weeks I have been asked many times why my country Northern Ireland are doing so well at Euros 2016. Why, as a country of 1.8 million people has the team been able to navigate through a tough qualifying group containing Germany, Poland and the Ukraine to qualify for the last 16? Why do they hold the record as the smallest nation to win a game at the World Cup finals? How can they be ranked as high as 26 in the FIFA world rankings?
Rory McIlroy sent an inspirational video to the team before the Euros started. It filled us all with pride and made us realize that for many years our wee country has punched well above its weight and produced world champions and top sports teams. Many of the same attributes have all been said about Leicester City this year when they went on to win the English Premiership against all the odds. Hard-work, determination, persistence, togetherness as a group, good management and a humble group of players that have had to overcome many obstacles to reach the higher levels. In addition, a good Manager who understands the mentality of the group of players and plays a style that best suits their abilities.
The Leicester City players overcame any obstacle put in front of them to achieve success with their Manager Claudio Ranieri. The Northern Ireland players do the same for Michael O’Neill. Also, don’t forget the fans! Leicester City fans backed their players throughout the entire league campaign this year and made a difference, especially at home when the side needed a little extra encouragement to keep going during tight games. Northern Ireland fans have widely been recognized as the best in the tournament and have enthusiastically backed their players before, during and after the games. It gives the players a lift and they have a bond with the fans that not all of the bigger teams have.
The tide is turning! The top teams and the so called big players are under pressure. They are being out-worked, out-fought and sometimes out-thought by supposedly less talented opponents. In football (soccer) there is no place to hide on the field. If you are not putting maximum effort in and supremely motivated, you will be found out. Some of the top teams and players who are not on top of their game and letting their standards drop are now been humbled by their smaller opponents.
Yesterday, the Northern Ireland goal-keeper Michael McGovern make 28 saves against Germany, the World Champions. When asked about his performance in an interview he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “I had a busy day!”.
I think everyone is ready for a new era when the players and teams who are humble, hard-working and willing to do whatever it takes to overcome any obstacles in their path are achieving success. It is a refreshing change and provides our young players with better role models who are humble and demonstrate on a daily basis that success has to be earned and that it is achieved over the long-term with great determination, persistence and hard-work!
As we say frequently in Northern Ireland these days ……..Dare to Dream!