Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland's Cathcart determined to reach Euros for injured Corry Evans

High hopes: Craig Cathcart helped Northern Ireland qualify for Euro 2016 by beating Greece.

SITTING it out, missing out, are never pleasant experiences and Craig Cathcart is determined that Northern Ireland – and one particular colleague – won't suffer that fate.

While welcoming the return to action of central defensive colleague Jonny Evans, Cathcart is "gutted" that the latter's younger brother Corry has been ruled out of Thursday night's Euro play-off final against Slovakia due to a hamstring injury sustained at the weekend:

"Yeah, I haven't spoken to him about it, I must give him a text. I was sad to hear he came off. He's had bad luck with injuries over the past year or so. I'm sure he will be gutted.

"He will be a big miss because any time there's a big game Corry normally plays. Gutted he's not here but we'll try to get the job done and make sure he's ready for the competition.

"He never lets you down. He's been brilliant for Northern Ireland over the years, he'll be a big miss, but we have a big squad for that reason. Whoever comes in will have to do a job and hopefully we can get there for him."

Cathcart himself didn't feature in the two-legged play-off against Switzerland for the last World Cup, his pain increased by seeing the visitors score at Windsor Park from an extremely harsh penalty – ironically awarded against Corry Evans – then hold out for a fortunate goalless draw out in Basel.

"I was at the [Belfast] game, actually; I was injured and doing my rehab in Dublin, so I managed to get up. I was in the dressing room with the lads. It was disappointing.

"The second leg, I remember how unlucky we were not to get the result that night. We don't want to make that mistake. We've got to the final of this one.

"I think that motivated this whole campaign really from the start. We knew we were so close to getting to a World Cup so we wanted to start the Euro campaign as well as we could and that's what we ended up doing. The motivation came from that.

"But that was a long time ago now and the team has changed since then. I don't think we can look back on that too much, we have to focus on this game more than anything."

One positive is the availability of the elder Evans, who returned from a recent injury absence to help Leicester City move to the top of the Premier League.

Cathcart said of his former Manchester United club-mate: "Obviously he's a key player, he's one of our best players and it's massive to have him fit and available. He's one of our most experienced as well.

"We've played well together in the last few years and got a good partnership going. It's great that he played at weekend and came through the game unscathed and he's ready for the match on Thursday."

Rather than the Swiss miss, the hope is to replicate the victory over Greece in 2015 which sealed a slot at the last Euros.

"I have fond memories of that game," said Carthcart. "I remember a lot about the game - maybe not so much about after it!

"I remember going ahead in the game and feeling comfortable and confident that we were going to do the job.

"After the game it was great, everyone on the pitch together and just that feeling of knowing we had done it.

"We had a game in Finland after that and managed to get a draw, but I don't know how we did it that night because you can imagine what the celebrations were like after the Greece game.

"It was just the whole feeling of qualifying and everyone was ecstatic, so to get the chance to experience that feeling again, I'm sure it will drive a lot of the lads on in the squad."

As well as Corry Evans, Aberdeen winger Mattie Kennedy has also been ruled out by injury, so in comes a different younger brother, Rochdale defender/midfielder Ryan McLaughlin, whose sibling Conor is also on the panel.

Supporters will also be there in greater numbers, just over 1000 NI fans, and Cathcart believes they can help the hosts:

"Yes, it's a bit of weird atmosphere in stadiums with no fans there. You can switch off at times.

"The Bosnia game [play-off semi-final], you could really feel a difference. I think they had a couple of thousand in that night, so that was even a little bit louder. It just felt like a normal game again, something that you've been used to throughout your career. So getting the fans back is definitely going to play a massive part.

"You see some of the games now where teams are winning four or five, even 6-0, when they're not expected to – I think that's partly down to the [strange] way things are. Getting fans back is great, hopefully it'll give us a big boost on the night."

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