ROY­ALS AT EU­ROS

Oliver Nor­wood and Steve Clarke on Read­ing’s in­ter­na­tional he­roes

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Shona Duthie

OLIVER Nor­wood was part of the North­ern Ire­land side that wrote a new chap­ter in the na­tion’s mod­est foot­ball his­tory last week – and now he can­not wait for a Read­ing re­union in France next sum­mer.

Welsh team-mates Chris Gunter and Hal Rob­son-Kanu are also off to the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, and they could be joined across the Chan­nel by Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn should the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land emerge vic­to­ri­ous from their play-off.

Nor­wood’s team be­came the first ini­tially drawn in pot five to qual­ify for a ma­jor cham­pi­onship and their army of sup­port­ers will fi­nally get to dust down their pass­ports af­ter a 30year wait to reach a tour­na­ment fi­nals. When you con­sider that 11 years ago – af­ter Lawrie Sanchez had just as­sumed the reins from Sammy McIl­roy – North­ern Ire­land went 28 months with­out a win and al­most 1,300 min­utes with­out even scor­ing a goal, the mag­ni­tude of their achieve­ment be­comes even greater.

And the mid­fielder ad­mits if his in­ter­na­tional ex­ploits can be cou­pled with pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League for Read­ing, 2016 re­ally will be a vin­tage year.

“Quali­fy­ing is 100 per cent one of the high­lights of my ca­reer and hope­fully by the end of the sea­son I will have an­other one,” said the 24-year-old, capped by England at Un­der-17 level.

“Next year could be a re­ally spe­cial one. If we keep do­ing what we have been do­ing in the league at Read­ing, get pro­moted and then I can go off to the Eu­ros, I could re­tire a happy man.”

Re­laxed

Qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the Eu­ros for the first time ever was sealed with a 3-1 vic­tory over Greece in Belfast and fol­lowed up with a 1-1 draw in Fin­land to ce­ment top spot in Group F.

But rather than be over­whelmed by stand­ing on the brink of his­tory, Nor­wood said a re­laxed at­mos­phere in­side Wind­sor Park helped their cause against the Greeks.

“The first goal came in the 35th minute and the place just erupted,” said Nor­wood.“I think there were only 12,000 in there, but it sounded like 70,000 – the place was bounc­ing.

“As soon as we got that first goal we were not go­ing to throw it away.We were that con­fi­dent and even be­fore the game it was very re­laxed.We had two bites of the cherry as such – we did not have to do it on that night,but we wanted to in front of our home fans.

“No-one was up­tight and we knew we had the job in hand.

“With the in­ten­sity we play with at in­ter­na­tional level, it is like play­ing for a club team.”

Back in Berk­shire, Read­ing are in top form af­ter a slow start to the cam­paign.

The dis­trac­tion of an FA Cup semi-fi­nal last term saw them scrap to Cham­pi­onship safety with their sole win in ten games com­ing on the fi­nal day, and they suf­fered a hang­over in Au­gust.

But five wins in six be­fore yes­ter­day’s visit from Charl­ton had the Roy­als rid­ing high in third place.

And Nor­wood be­lieves the way his team-mates coped with the pres­sure of help­ing their in­ter­na­tional sides through their re­spec­tive quali­fy­ing cam­paigns stands them in good stead for a pro­mo­tion push.

“I am sure the pres­sure will be on and the ex­pec­ta­tion will start to build on us at Read­ing,” he added. “That is when you need the play­ers who have had the ex­pe­ri­ence in­ter­na­tion­ally of those big nights and pres­sured games to step up to the plate and I am sure we will.

“We have got Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, my­self, Hal Rob­son-Kanu, Chris Gunter, Danny Wil­liams (USA) – I think there are about eight or nine in­ter­na­tion­als in our start­ing XI.

“Read­ing should be com­pet­ing where we are with the play­ers we have and come the end of the sea­son I do not think we will be far away.

“When the pres­sure is on, it is up to us play­ers to deal with that, and I think we can.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

ON A HIGH: Oliver Nor­wood play­ing for North­ern Ire­land

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