Ex-Ballyclare player McAuley to captain NI
McAuley has skippered his country before - in a scoreless draw with Slovenia and against Wales and the Republic of Ireland in the Carling Nations Cup three years ago.
This evening’s game in Bucharest carries more gravity. A win or a draw would put Northern Ireland firmly in the driving seat in Group F after a blistering start to the campaign which has seen Michael O’Neill’s men win three from three.
“Obviously it’s a huge honour to captain Northern Ireland and Michael had a number of players to choose from,” McAuley said in Thursday’s pre-match press conference.
“But it’s not about who leads the team out on to the pitch, it’s about playing as a team and making sure we get a positive result in this game.”
O’Neill’s decision to hand ‘Big G’ the armband isn’t a huge surprise. McAuley was offered the chance to lead the team against Greece to mark his 50th international cap. He declined because he didn’t want to upset Northern Ireland’s momentum.
McAuley, who cut his teeth in the Irish League with a loan spell at Dixon Park, followed by stints at Crusaders and Coleraine, turns 35 next month.
He, along with other veteran players like Aaron Hughes and Roy Carroll know this campaign represents their last realistic chance to help Northern Ireland qualify for its first major finals since 1986.
McAuley will be keen to sign off in 2014 by guiding his country to a fourth successive victory - something Northern Ireland have never done before. If they can achieve that, the fans can really start to believe they can go all the way to France.