Michael O’Neill said Northern Ireland’s 2-0 victory over Ukraine left him feeling the “proudest I have in my career” as the country secured their first-ever win at the European Championship on an emotional night in Lyon.
Goals from Gareth McAuley and Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn gave Northern Ireland a vital three points following their opening loss to Poland. After last night’s 0-0 draw between Germany and Poland, they will finish at least third in Group C and have everything to play for when they face the Germans in Paris on Tuesday.
“It is probably the proudest I have felt in my career, certainly in the dugout, and probably throughout my football career,” said O’Neill. “As a manager you can be organised and ask for different things, but when you get a performance like that, of pure commitment, there is nothing more you can ask.”
But the night soured significantly when it emerged a second Northern Ireland supporter had died while following the team in France. An Irish Football Association statement said they were “deeply saddened” by the death of a fan inside the Stade de Lyon from what is thought to have been a heart attack.
Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “The fan passed away as he was watching the game. This puts any result of a football match into perspective. The thoughts of the board, management, players and staff are with his family and friends at this sad time.”
The tragedy follows the death of Darren Rodgers in a fall just hours after watching Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Poland in Nice. The players wore black armbands last night in tribute to Rodgers, who was 24 years old.
It has been a difficult few days for Northern Ireland and they knew they needed a result last night to give them hope of extending their stay in the tournament. O’Neill made five changes to the team that lost to Poland, with former Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty the most glaring absentee.
It is understood Lafferty did not take the news well but O’Neill said: “Kyle is still a big part of the squad and will still play a massive part in the tournament.”