History-maker Norwood books his place at Euros

Finland's Paulus Arajuuri tackles Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood  during the European Championship Qualifying match at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Finland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday October 11, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Finland. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Finland's Paulus Arajuuri tackles Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood during the European Championship Qualifying match at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Finland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday October 11, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Finland. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.

Burnley-born midfielder Oliver Norwood made history as Northern Ireland qualified for their first European Championship finals.

The 24-year-old has missed just 26 minutes of the Green and White Army’s campaign as they topped Group F to book their place in France next summer.

The Royal, replaced by Jake Cooper in the 89th minute of the 2-1 victory over the Clarets at Turf Moor last month, wasn’t even born the last time his nation qualified for the finals of a major tournament.

But the former St Theodore’s pupil can now take his place in the record books alongside legendary figures such as Pat Jennings, Sammy McIlroy, Gerry Armstrong and Norman Whiteside who helped Billy Bingham’s side reach the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

After succeeding at the 14th attempt, with a 3-1 win over Greece at Belfast’s Windsor Park, Norwood said: “I’m really proud. Northern Ireland has never qualified for the Euros before. It’s great for my family, particularly my granddad. He was at the game in Belfast against Greece.

“It’s an amazing thing that he’s been able to see it in his lifetime. He probably never thought he’d get to see his grandson play for Northern Ireland, never mind qualify for the Euros. He’s seen it now and it was a very proud moment for him, for my grandma and for the rest of the family.

“Many thought we wouldn’t do it at the start of the campaign but it’s amazing what team spirit and a hard-working group of lads can do. It hasn’t sunk in yet and I don’t think it will until the draw is made in December and we see who’s in our group.”

He added: “It was a special occasion with a special group of people - not just the players.

“The manager (Michael O’Neill) is a special person, he’ll go down in folklore because he’s a legend in his own right now. There’s the staff behind the manager as well - the coaches, the physio, the kit men.

“We’ll take anybody on now. We’ll be the underdogs in every game but that’s when we thrive. I don’t think many teams will want us in their group. We’re going to enjoy it but we’re not going there to make up the numbers. We’ll be there to make an impact.

“It’s going to be an amazing tournament and an amazing experience. To get to play on a stage like that is what you dream of as a boy.

“There’s going to be a very British feel to the tournament. There’ll be thousands of Northern Irish fans, thousands of Welsh and the English will be out there in force. Hopefully the Republic will be out there too. We’ve made history and I can look back on this achievement with pride.”