Despite an underwhelming start to the decade, the fortunes of the Northern Ireland national team steadily increased as the years went on; they reached the pinnacle of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships held in France.
The Green and White Army then narrowly missed out on the 2018 World Cup Finals after a play-off defeat to Switzerland. But, they have earned themselves a great chance of participating in the upcoming Euros. Indeed, Northern Ireland have a play-off semi-final tie against Bosnia and Herzegovina to look forward to.
Northern Ireland Team of the Decade
Manager – Michael O’Neill
The man in charge of this side can be no one other than Michael O’Neill. The former Shamrock Rovers boss was appointed manager in December 2011 and remained in the dugout throughout the decade.
Shortly before the turn of the new decade, however, the 50-year-old announced that he would be departing for EFL Championship side Stoke City.
O’Neill won 26 games whilst in charge, and led the country to their first major tournament in 30 years. There is no doubt whatsoever that he will be sorely missed across the whole of Ulster.
Formation – 4-5-1
Goalkeeper – Michael McGovern
It’s a fight between two Fermanagh men for the spot in goal; we’ve decided to go for Enniskillen man Michael McGovern in between the sticks. After earning his first cap at the start of the decade, McGovern had to wait until 2015 for his next outing. However, this time around he managed to nail down the number one spot for the Euros.
The Norwich City keeper made a great impression in the competition as well, producing a man of the match display against Germany. He made a heroic eight saves in the group stage fixture; this was against a side boasting the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller.
McGovern made a total of 30 appearances for the national team over the past decade; his last appearance was in a 3-2 victory away to Czech Republic in October 2019.
Right Back – Aaron Hughes
Although a natural centre-half, Aaron Hughes deputised in the full-back position on a number of occasions for the national team. The former Newcastle United and Aston Villa defender is the country’s second most-capped outfield player with a staggering 112 appearances in green.
The Cookstown man initially retired from international duty in 2011 after 79 games. However, he returned to the squad the following year and earned a further 33 caps.
Narrowly edging out former teammate Chris Baird to the right back position, Hughes appeared in three of the four European Championship games down the right-hand flank; he featured in the 2-0 win over Ukraine.
Centre Back – Jonny Evans
The Leicester City defender has established himself as one of the nation’s best ever centre backs; this is due to his high-level performances for club and country over the last decade.
The 32-year-old has featured heavily under Michael O’Neill; he has even captained the side in a number of friendlies.
Scorer in Northern Ireland’s most recent win against Czech Republic, Jonny will no doubt be remembered fondly by the Green and White Army once he does hang up his boots.
Centre Back – Gareth McAuley
Although it’s harsh on regular Premier League starter Craig Cathcart to miss out on a spot in the starting eleven, we just had to give the other centre back vacancy to Gareth McAuley.
Now retired, the then 36-year-old started in all four games at the 2016 Euros. He gave the Northern Ireland supporters their best moment of the decade during that summer in France.
His leaping header in the 49th minute put the Ulstermen 1-0 up against Ukraine, as they went on to win in their second fixture of the tournament. That goal sent the thousands of travelling fans into raptures; it will no doubt remain long in the memory of supporters for decades to come.
Left Back – Chris Brunt
Completing the backline is the reliable Chris Brunt, who has appeared in a number of positions throughout his distinguished career.
Before retiring from international duty in 2018, the versatile West Brom captain made 65 caps for Northern Ireland. His final cap was the World Cup play-off defeat to Switzerland.
Capable in both midfield and defence, Brunt has a wand of a left food in his arsenal, and was often on set-piece duties for the national side.
Often collecting assists due to his dead-ball deliveries, the 35-year-old’s last international goal came from a driven free-kick in a 2-0 win over Czech Republic in 2017.
Right Midfield – Niall McGinn
Scorer of the second goal in the famous 2-0 victory over Ukraine, Niall McGinn has been a regular starter under the stewardship of Michael O’Neill.
The Aberdeen midfielder scored his first goal for Northern Ireland in 2012, grabbing the opener in a 1-1 draw away to Portugal in the World Cup Qualifiers.
The 32-year-old produced a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win away to Hungary in 2014, as the “Norn Iron” got their Euros qualifying campaign off to a flyer.
Another versatile player who’s appeared in various roles over the years, McGinn captained the side in a friendly defeat against Croatia in 2016.
Central Midfield – Steven Davis
Captaining the side is the legendary Steven Davis. With 117 caps to his name, Davis looks set to beat Pat Jennings record of 119 appearances for the Green and White Army.
The Rangers midfielder became skipper at the start of 2012; he has kept hold of the armband ever since. Yet another player who has been spread across the park, Davis has played in various roles all across the midfield. This is as well as covering as a second striker in a friendly against Malta in 2013.
Adored by the supporters, the former Southampton star has performed brilliantly for his country over the years, and even has a famous chant which can be heard all around Windsor Park.
Furthermore, it was his two strikes against Greece that sent Northern Ireland to their first-ever international tournament since 1986.
Central Midfield – Paddy McNair
The most defensive unit in this team’s midfield, Paddy McNair gets the nod in the middle of the park. After making his debut in 2015, McNair has gone on to become a regular starter in recent times.
The Middlesbrough man first appeared in the squad as a right back, but has since made the move into midfield for the national side.
He appeared in all eight fixtures in the most recent European Qualifiers campaign and scored twice in the nation’s latest win; this was the 3-2 victory away in Prague back in October of last year.
Central Midfield – Oliver Norwood
Alongside Davis and McNair in the centre is Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood. Since making his debut against Montenegro at the start of the decade, the Burnley-born midfielder has gave nine years of service towards the national side.
Norwood featured in every minute of the group stages in the 2016 Euros, and it was his free-kick in Lyon that found the head of Gareth McAuley, much to the despair of the Ukrainians.
The 28-year-old featured 57 times for Northern Ireland, before retiring from international duty last summer.
Left Midfielder – Stuart Dallas
Making up our midfielder is Leeds United’s Stuart Dallas, who has earned 44 caps for the national side over the past decade.
Despite making his debut in 2011, Dallas had to wait nearly four years before his second international appearance. However, the versatile winger soon cemented his place in Michael O’Neill’s plans after a string of impressive performances.
Another Cookstown born player in this starting eleven, Dallas appeared in all four fixtures during the Euros tournament. Furthermore, he played in all but one of the games in the recent Euros qualifying campaign.
Used mostly as a right back in recent outings, Dallas is best utilised as a left midfielder in this squad.
Striker – Kyle Lafferty
Up top we’ve gone for the big man Kyle Lafferty, largely down to his prolific goal scoring form which sent the country to the 2016 Euro finals.
Although many will be asking why record scorer David Healy doesn’t have a place in the first team, there is no doubt that his best years came before the turn of the decade. Only one of Healy’s 36 international goals came before 2010, so we believe that Lafferty deserves his starting role.
The man from Kesh was in the form of his life during the Euro 2016 qualifiers, notching an impressive seven goals as the Green and White Army booked their place in France.
Now at Sunderland, Lafferty has made 75 appearances for the nation and leads the line in our Northern Ireland Team of the Decade.