Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn reflects on a historic journey
Niall McGinn has a bit of a knack for scoring important goals in recent times, and none more so than for Northern Ireland.
His late strike against Ukraine in their Euro 2016 group game has cemented his place amongst legends such as Gerry Armstrong in the North’s short but proud history at major tournaments.
Already part of a 'history-making' squad of players that qualified for the Euros for the first time ever, the Aberdeen forward has now had time to reflect on the successful campaign.
McGinn was speaking at the launch of a new menu at his 26 West Bar & Grill restaurant in west Beflast after travelling home from France on Monday to a heroes’ welcome at the Titanic Quarter in the city.
“We expected a massive turn out to be honest,” he said.
“We’ve seen the videos, we’ve seen everything on Facebook and Twitter with the fans all tournament, but to come home and see it in real life was unbelievable.
“They’re coming from all parts of Northern Ireland down to Belfast on a Monday evening, maybe having taken a half day off work, and all the lads appreciate that massively.”
The same “incredible” support travelled in their thousands to France to support the North in their European debut, and witnessed even more history when the Tyrone man helped seal a 2-0 victory over Ukraine.
“To score at the Euros was the best moment of my life,” he said.
“On a personal note it’s been incredible. What an experience it was, and one I’ll never forget.
“To score in our only win at the tournament is obviously going to go down in history, and to be part of that history is unbelievable.”
Having had a taste for what the pinnacle of European football has to offer, McGinn has savoured every minute despite a cruel 1-0 defeat to Wales in the last 16.
“It didn’t really sink in what we achieved until we got home last night and seen the crowd down at Titanic,” he said.
“It probably sunk in a bit more then when we saw the support we’ve been getting back here and how brilliant it’s been.
“Obviously all the lads were disappointed after Wales, but if some had said before the start of the group that we would qualify for the last 16 we would have bitten their hand off.
“We’ve to be immensely proud of ourselves, but I think we’re disappointed in the way we went out because the boys did so well and were probably the better team on the night.
“But I think when we look back on things a couple of weeks, or a couple of months, down the line we are to be extremely proud.”
With the Euros behind them, Northern Ireland will now concentrate on a tricky World Cup qualifying group which includes recent opponents Germany.
Although a few of those who featured in France may hang up their international boots, McGinn believes that this summer’s experience will help Michael O’Neill’s squad..
“Going in to these qualifiers we’ve got to reflect and recover right,” he said.
“We know now with this World Cup campaign coming up it is going to be extremely difficult as we’ve got the world champions Germany, Norway, Czech Republic.
“So it’s only going to get harder and harder but we know ourselves that if we keep the spirit in the squad anything is possible.
“But we have to take experience from the whole tournament there and that will definitely benefit us for these qualifiers.”