Euro 2016: QPR’s Conor Washington relishing opportunity to represent Northern Ireland in France
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:10 08 June 2016
PA/Press Association Images
Conor Washington believes his lack of first-team football since joining QPR could end up being a blessing in disguise as he bids to lead the line for Northern Ireland in their first-ever European Championship.
The 24-year-old is yet to get off the mark for Rangers, but he has scored two goals in four appearances for his country since being called up for the first time in March, leaving the former St Ives Town striker with plenty of optimism heading into the tournament in France.
Speaking exclusively to this title, he said: “It still hasn’t sunk in yet to be honest with you [making the 23-man squad]. It’s the proudest moment of my football career to date, it’s just so surreal. Me and my family are over the moon about it.
“I’ve had a frustrating couple of months at QPR in terms of not scoring, so it was a good break for me to go away in March and play international football for the first time.
“I managed to do enough in the friendlies and in training to impress the gaffer (Michael O’Neill) and prove I was worthy of a place in the squad.
“It might have even helped me not playing as many games as I would have liked to at QPR. As a result I’m now a bit fresher than I would have been at the end of the season had I been playing every week.
“I’d already played quite a lot at Peterborough (31 games) in the first half of the season, so it wasn’t like over the course of the season I hadn’t had a lot of football, because I have.
“I haven’t had much game time at QPR, but that hasn’t stopped me showing what I can produce when I’ve played for Northern Ireland.”
Washington, who qualified for the Green and White army through his late Belfast-born grandmother Pamela, quashed suggestions that his mid-season move to the Rs was a risk that put his place at the Euros in jeopardy, insisting there was never any doubt in his mind that he would make the move to west London.
“There were never any concerns for me. QPR are a massive club and I think it would have been foolish to turn a move down,” he added.
“I’d had a few messages from Michael telling me not to worry too much about the situation at QPR. I had correspondence with him when I was doing really well at Peterborough, and he just told me to make sure I was ready and good to go when I came into the camp and produce what he knows I’m capable of.
“That was obviously a real positive for me to hear and a huge confidence boost at the same time. I know I’ve got the ability and back myself to produce the goods for club and country.
“I think I’ve shown that in the short number of games I’ve played for Northern Ireland so far. The way my first goal [against Slovenia] came about was great, it typified the sort of player I am.
“It wasn’t a tap-in or anything like that, but the kind of goal I’ve been scoring all my career. It was nice to prove to myself and other people that I can compete at this level and now I’ve got to show that I belong here this summer and take that form into next season with QPR.”
Washington is relishing being a part of this historic Northern Ireland squad, who are unbeaten in their last 12 games in qualifiers and friendlies – the best run any side has put together going into the Euros – and he is confident O’Neill’s side have the ability to advance past the group stage, where they face Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but we believe we have more than enough about us to go through,” said Washington.
“It’s essentially three cup finals for us and we’ve got to show what we’re made of. We are quietly confident. Not too many sides will know much about us as a squad, so I think that will work to our advantage.
“We’ve got a great camaraderie, proven quality and experience in the team as well. That has been massive for us over the qualifying round and beyond.
“We’ve got that hunger, desire and passion you need to be successful, which is obviously a massive part of Northern Ireland and the way we play.
“There’s great competition for places in my position, obviously. I think it was a real positive that myself and Will [Grigg] and Kyle [Lafferty] got on the scoresheet [against Belarus].
“That shows we have a real goal threat and can cause problems. It’s an excellent dilemma for the manager to have.”
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