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O'Neill: Northern Ireland can make EURO impact

Saturday, October 10, 2015 9:35:00 AM America/Los_Angeles

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has pledged that his side would "make an impact" at the 2016 UEFA European Championship after securing qualification.

Captain Steven Davis scored twice as O'Neill's men beat Greece 3-1 at Windsor Park in Belfast on Thursday to qualify for their first major championship since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It will be the first time Northern Ireland have ever appeared at a European Championship, but O'Neill says they will not travel to France to make up the numbers.

"We're not just going to go to France and enjoy it," said O'Neill, whose side have risen from 88th to 35th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking during his tenure. "We're going to go and try to make an impact. I genuinely believe, fitness and availability willing, we can go there with a real optimism. I'm very proud of what we've achieved. This is certainly the highest point of my career, either as a player or a manager."

O'Neill reserved special praise for Southampton midfielder Davis, who netted either side of a Josh Magennis header before Christos Aravidis claimed a late consolation for the Greeks. "Steven's performance was out of this world. He is a magnificent captain," said O'Neill, a former player with Newcastle United and Wigan Athletic, who succeeded Nigel Worthington as manager in December 2011.

"Anyone in the squad will validate that opinion. That gives you an indication of the type of player and person he is. We've come from an era where Northern Ireland players were criticised for not being available at certain times, but in this squad we have real togetherness and spirit. "For those players who've been through campaign after campaign and been through loads of disappointments - and had a lot of criticism - this is their moment as much as it is mine."

Davis, who was a year old when his country last graced a major tournament, dedicated his goals to his late mother. "When I scored, it obviously meant a lot because my mum passed away in 2008," he said. "She was my biggest fan. Those two goals were for her."

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