Gareth McAuley backs Northern Ireland to thrive in big game atmosphere just like they did in 2006

A picture of Warren Feeney celebrating with Grant McCann, Damien Johnson,  Gareth McAuley and David Healy
-Credit: (Image: Darren Kidd/Presseye)


Gareth McAuley has backed Northern Ireland's young stars to handle the atmosphere when they take on Spain in Mallorca tonight. Michael O'Neill's men will face a stern test against Luis de la Fuente's side in what is the final warm-up game for the Spanish before they head to the European Championships in Germany.

The hosts will boast a side packed with quality with the likes of Rodri, Pedri, Alvaro Morata and Nico Williams all set to feature at the Son Moix Stadium in Palma. But McAuley is all too aware that reputations can go out the window in football.

The current Under-19 manager was on the bench when Northern Ireland humbled a star-studded Spain team back in 2006. It was a night to remember for everyone at Windsor Park that night and McAuley believes this current crop of Northern Irish players can create more special memories again this evening.

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“It was incredible. I had a few caps and I could still remember the special atmosphere of the night," said McAuley. “As an inexperienced international player at that time, I haven’t forgotten the level of intensity I felt from being pitchside.

“You can only get that experience from being there and hopefully the players get a taste of that on Saturday. It’s impossible to recreate that atmosphere in another setting but you must always play the game, not the occasion.

"You have to keep your concentration against a top side but I don’t think the lads will be overawed. I’ve worked with Shea (Charles), Isaac (Price) and Brodie (Spencer) and they can deal with it.”

Northern Ireland twice battled back from a goal down to claim the win over Spain that night some 18 years ago. McAuley was cheering on his teammates from the bench and delighted to see his good friend David Healy bag a hat-trick, even if he did nearly injure himself in the wild celebrations.

"I had known David since I was 10 and it was special being there when he scored that historic hat-trick," said McAuley. “When David went through and lifted the ball over Casillas it was amazing. I jumped up and nearly cracked my head after he had gone through to score the winner!"

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