Manchester United important to Northern Ireland success

Northern Ireland owe partial thanks to Manchester United and Alex Ferguson after booking their place at the European Championships.

Oliver Norwood and Michael O'Neill have credited Manchester United and Alex Ferguson for helping to shape key figures in Northern Ireland's qualification for Euro 2016.

Although Paddy McNair is the only player in O'Neill's squad to have remained at Old Trafford after coming through the ranks, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Craig Cathcart and Luke McCullough were also developed at the club.

And Norwood, now at Reading, has suggested that their education was crucial to helping Northern Ireland book a place in France.

"It might sound silly, but the United lads were brought up properly," Norwood said.

"We worked under the regime of the best manager in football, Sir Alex Ferguson. What he passed through that club – to the youth team and every academy boy – that's something we can look back on with pride.

"We were all together there and now we're all together here at Northern Ireland. We were brought up in a proper football club, training every day with world-class players, but seeing they're just normal people."

His theory was supported by coach O'Neill, who acknowledged the influence the Premier League side have had on the country's fortunes.

"There's a number of our players who have that same good grounding," O'Neill said.

"They may have come away from Manchester United, but they've fought back from that disappointment and developed careers for themselves.

"Some of them, like Cathcart, are back in the Premier League and some are in the Championship, but now they're here performing on the international stage and they're going to get the chance to go to a major finals."