Liam Beckett: I’ll always be a Northern Ireland fan, but friendlies don’t do much to get the heart racing

I will always follow and support Northern Ireland but I have to admit I have never been one for the so-called friendlies, not even in training.

Ootball is a combat sport, although not nearly as physical as it once was, but the actual art of playing the game must go hand in hand with an innate desire to win.

A competitive edge as well as a winning mentality must be part of every footballer’s DNA, but once the word ‘friendly’ creeps into the psyche, many of those ingredients become somewhat diluted. As a result, the game itself often becomes just plain boring, with too many players just following the moves.

I am well aware that these games serve to provide management with a gift when it comes to trying out new players, systems, and formations – experimentation with essentially nothing but pride at stake.

For many ordinary fans, there’s no denying that these occasions are nothing more than practice matches played on the international stage but, to their credit, they still come in the thousands.

I was at Windsor Park on Tuesday night for the Hungary clash and as a Northern Ireland fan I always love to see our team play live but despite my best efforts I still can’t quite understand this “friendly” tag and I quickly get frustrated when I detect the definition of the word coming from a game. It always leaves me feeling empty when we lose, especially when I know that if we played the way we can, this defeat could very well have been a victory.

Against Hungary I thought some of our players looked long and, given the timing of the game, I can fully understand why.

I guess in many ways we’re spoiled because we’re so used to our team giving sweat, blood and tears for the cause every game. Every time we lower that standard we can be caught out and that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night.

Although we missed a few good chances, overall I thought we were second best and dominated most of the time. Although it pains me to say it, I thought the better team had won.

Mind you, I thought the Hungarians were decent, especially in midfield where Andras Schafer and Callum Styles dominated the roost and dictated the tempo in pretty much everything that was good in the visitors. Almost everything constructive revolved around this midfield pair.

As for Northern Ireland, although we didn’t play with our usual zest or enthusiasm, I still felt there were some good performances, particularly from the younger and new boys who got away, although I thought one of our best players – Paddy McNair – was completely wasted in his right-back role.

Then, as is common in friendlies, a series of second-half substitutions left me completely deflated and, as always, had me reaching for my car keys before the final whistle.

Yes, I’m a fan, but I just can’t warm up a bit.

AFTER almost two years of planning and two postponements imposed by Covid, we were finally able to hold our mega Night of the Stars NHS fundraiser at the Tullyglass House Hotel Ballymena on Thursday – and what a brilliant night it turned out to be.

Many high-profile stars from TV, radio, media, music, entertainment and sport were all there to say a huge public thank you to all of our National Health Service heroes.

Health Minister Robin Swann was the special guest and the standing ovation he received from the audience proved beyond doubt how those present – who came from a wide cross-section of our community – really admire the way he handled an almost impossible and changing situation almost daily.

All it took was a phone call to all these stars and they immediately made it clear that it would be their pleasure to appear on the night, such is their admiration for the wonderful care our NHS provides to all of us – and don’t forget, it’s free.

It’s impossible to name all those people who appeared, helped and supported this event but, from the sports world, I will be forever grateful to my fellow Sunday Life colleague and former world boxing champion Carl Frampton during the promo; Northern Irish football legend Gerry Armstrong; UTV presenter Ruth Gorman and, for me, the best motorcycle racer in the world, Michael Dunlop, who all donated their time to the cause.

We may not always agree on many things and we may have different ideas of how things are done, but when we put those political hats aside when needed, you just don’t get no more decent or obliging people than those in Northern Ireland. – they are really a different class, and I mean it.

I’m delighted to report that a quick count at the end of the night indicated that a magnificent sum of £18,000 (and more) had been raised and for this my fellow organizing team at Adrian Logan and David Lewers will be forever grateful.

When our final sum is reached, the money will be divided equally among our five local health trusts and used for whatever each trust deems necessary.

HERE is a date for the diary of all football fans – and especially those of Glentoran.

A big night of fraic and banter is set for The Oval’s Premier Lounge on Tuesday night when Gerry Armstrong, Billy Hamilton and Jim Cleary will all take to the stage for a question and answer session as part of a Legends Night at the east of Belfast.

I’m counting a lot on Jim (right) to keep some semblance of order because when Armstrong and Hamilton start, believe me, those old football stories will sink.

I have no doubt the 1982 goal in Spain will get a mention and I’m sure they will have dribbled past all the Spanish players and it will have been scored from the halfway line by the time they are finished!

Those in attendance are sure to hear some of the other stories that are only saved for special occasions and the sore sides are virtually guaranteed.

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