Northern Ireland ‘needs’ to reach Euro 2016, says boss Michael O’Neill

first_img Norman Whiteside, Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy were some of the last Northern Irishmen to feature in a finals competition at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but O’Neill’s current crop could end that long hiatus as early as Monday. Victories over the Faroe Islands and Hungary, coupled with the latter dropping points against Group F leaders Romania on Friday, would assure Northern Ireland of a place in France next summer. Northern Ireland are on the cusp of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 30 years, and boss Michael O’Neill believes the country “needs” to be in France for Euro 2016 next summer. And O’Neill has issued a rallying cry to his squad ahead of the crunch double header in their qualifying campaign, urging them to deliver an historic moment for their nation. “If we were to manage to maintain our form and secure qualification, I think it would be the first time in history that a pot-five team has qualified,” O’Neill said. “That gives you an indication of where this team has come to. “The motivation is there because Northern Ireland needs it. Simple as that. Nothing else. “We need it as a country and as a group of players, as a group of supporters. We’re not hiding behind that, and we want to deliver it. We need this and I think the players recognise they have the capability to deliver it.” O’Neill can speak from personal experience, too, having played during the 30-year wilderness before taking the helm in 2011. He and a raft of other Northern Irishmen never came close to experiencing a summer tournament against Europe or the world’s elite, and O’Neill thinks his current squad recognise they can make an indelible mark on their own careers. “Obviously the prize is huge and you do think both about the significance of qualification and, if it didn’t go our way, the significance of that also,” he said. “But within this group of players there’s a hard core of players who recognise that there’s a real opportunity for them to have their international careers significantly remembered. “There are lot of players who have played down the years for Northern Ireland and not had the chance to go to a major finals, a lot of really good players. “This is a group of players who have given themselves this opportunity with what they’ve done to date, so I don’t worry that mentally they’ll not be able to handle the situation or the games that lie ahead. They recognise the prize that lies ahead for them and I’ve every confidence. “The likes of Steven (Davis), Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird, just to name three players alone, have served Northern Ireland now for the best part of 10, 15 years. It would be their reward to get to the finals. It’s that type of player and other senior players around them that have put themselves in this position.” Press Associationlast_img read more

Ellsworth’s Jackson Curtis scores 1,000th career point in win over Presque Isle

first_img Ellsworth runners compete in virtual Boston Marathon – September 16, 2020 Mike MandellMike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at Latest Posts ELLSWORTH — Hours before he would cement his name in Ellsworth basketball history, Jackson Curtis took his mother on a trip down memory lane.As Ellsworth’s Saturday afternoon tip-off against Presque Isle neared, Curtis, the Eagles’ leading scorer, was just 22 points away from joining the acclaimed 1,000-point club. Thinking back on his journey toward Ellsworth basketball stardom, he reminded his mom where he had been five years earlier.“He said to me, ‘Mom, remember when Dad coached me in seventh grade, and I didn’t even start on that team?’” Shannon Curtis recalled. “‘Well, look at me now.’”Indeed, Curtis has made remarkable strides en route to becoming a prolific player for a program that’s had no shortage of them over the years. Now, after another in a long line of dogged individual efforts, his name will hang in Katsiaficas Gymnasium among the greatest to don an Ellsworth uniform.This is placeholder textThis is placeholder textJackson Curtis became the newest member of the Ellsworth basketball’s 1,000-point club Saturday in the Eagles’ 64-47 victory against Presque Isle. He reached the milestone on a free throw with 26.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the blowout win.Ellsworth’s Jackson Curtis looks on during the first half of a high school boys’ basketball game against Presque Isle on Jan. 25 at Ellsworth High School. Curtis scored 27 points to join John Edes, Jack Scott, Billy Whitmore, Dick Scott, Tim Scott, Nick Johnston and Corey Dewitt in the Ellsworth boys’ 1,000-point club. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELLCurtis, whose 18 points Friday night against Caribou put him 22 from the 1,000 mark, put Presque Isle on notice early with six points in the opening five minutes. After continuing his strong offensive showing into the second quarter, Curtis went to the locker room seven points away as Ellsworth (11-3) held a 35-21 lead.Although Curtis struggled somewhat to begin the second half, he quickly regained his form as he sank three baskets to move within one point of 1,000. Then, with Ellsworth leading 45-26 late in the third quarter, he went to the free-throw line after Presque Isle (6-9) was called for a technical foul.“When I went to the line after [the technical foul], I heard everybody yelling and cheering,” Curtis said. “That’s when I was like, ‘Wow, it’s really happening.’”Curtis came close on the first of his two attempts, but a last-second bounce of the ball the other way kept him at 999. His second attempt also hung around the rim, but after a soft kiss off the glass, the ball sank to the bottom of the net to send Katsiaficas Gymnasium wild.After his teammates collectively mobbed him at the free-throw line, Curtis looked up at his parents in the bleachers. He wasn’t emotional at first, but when he saw his mother smiling amidst a sea of fans waving “1,000” signs, that all changed.“Going to the line, I was trying not to think about it as much as I could, but that got me emotional,” Curtis said. “That’s when I realized how big of an accomplishment it is.”The game was stopped for five minutes as Curtis was recognized at midcourt. Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin awarded the game ball to Curtis, who was joined by his family members as fans, players and coaches from both teams applauded.“He’s been a huge player for us for four years,” Austin said. “He’s come up big for us numerous times, and now he’s at the point where he’s averaging 20 per game. … He came through again tonight.”In a somewhat ironic twist, Curtis reached the 1,000 mark on the free throw he felt was the worst of the two; his first attempt felt good as it left his hands, but the second, which did not, was the one that ultimately bounced home.Fans hold up signs commemorating Jackson Curtis’ 1,000th career point during the second half of a high school boys’ basketball game against Presque Isle on Jan. 25 at Ellsworth High School. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL“The first one felt better than the second one, definitely,” Curtis said. “That’s basketball, I guess.”As the free throws followed a technical foul, no players were positioned along the lane as Curtis shot. Yet after the senior’s second attempt fell through the nylon, his brother, Hunter, sprinted from midcourt to be the first player to congratulate him.Watching her two sons embrace from the stands, Shannon Curtis was giddy with excitement. Although she had originally told herself she wasn’t going to cry, the mother of three couldn’t help but shed tears of joy when the moment finally happened.“I was laughing out loud, and then I think I stopped thinking after that,” Shannon Curtis said. “It was a blur, and then my heart just wanted to weep out of my chest.”Curtis, who scored five more points in the fourth quarter to finish the game with 27, joins John Edes (1954), Jack Scott (1954), Billy Whitmore (1978), Dick Scott (1981), Tim Scott (1988), Nick Johnston (1999) and Corey Dewitt (2007) as Ellsworth boys’ players to reach 1,000 career points. Lynne Wescott, the only Ellsworth girls’ player to reach the milestone, did so in 1988.Ellsworth will be back in action against John Bapst (1-12) at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at Eastern Maine Community College, and host Foxcroft (4-10) for Senior Night at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, at Ellsworth High School. The Eagles will then play on the road against Hermon at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday, Feb. 1, before facing Mount Desert Island at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 in Bar Harbor.With those games and the Class B North tournament still remaining, Curtis will be hoping to end his high school basketball career on a high note in the coming weeks. No matter what, after going from riding the bench in seventh grade to posting one of high school basketball’s most prestigious individual achievements as a senior, he has his father, Dan, to thank.“My dad has pushed me ever since I was little, and it shows that hard work pays off,” Curtis said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for everything.” Latest posts by Mike Mandell (see all)center_img Bio Hospice volunteers help families navigate grief and find hope – September 12, 2020 MPA approves golf, XC, field hockey, soccer; football, volleyball moved to spring – September 10, 2020last_img read more

AFCON 2019: Mulumbu tips DR Congo for success

first_imgDemocratic Republic of Congo captain Youssouf Mulumbu believes his side can go all the way at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.The two-time champions finished third in 2015, but went out of the 2017 edition in the quarter-finals.As the Leopards prepare to face Uganda in their opening match on 22 June, Mulumbu is confident his side can reach the final.”We missed a bit of what it takes at the last tournament in 2017 and we’ve worked hard on some of it during qualification,” Mulumbu told BBC Sport.”If we can correct a little bit of what is missing we can go all the way to the final and even win it.”I sound very confident because we’ve been together as a group for a while now. “In tournaments like this, all the little details matter and we have a highly experienced coach [Florent Ibenge] on our side.”Seven-time champions Egypt are favourites for the title and DR Congo will face the Pharaohs in their second Group A match.However, Celtic’s Mulumbu insists there are bigger challenges beyond the hosts at the continental showpiece.”We’ve seen teams beat top sides like Ghana, it tells you there are no weaker teams in Africa,” he added.”You can’t focus on teams like Egypt because they are very successful and leave out others. “There are no guarantees and you don’t want to get into permutations to qualify.”Right now we only take it game by game, because our target is first to finish in the top two from our group.”The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Friday with hosts Egypt playing Zimbabwe in the opening match in Cairo.last_img read more