Boxer Carl Frampton lauds Burnley's Oliver Norwood ahead of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier

Northern Ireland's first ever two-weight boxing world champion Carl Frampton is backing Burnley-born Ollie Norwood and the Green and White Army to keep punching above their weight in World Cup qualifying.

Saturday, 25th March 2017, 8:30 am
Huddersfield Town v Brighton & Hove Albion. Huddersfield's Elias Kachunga battles with Brighton's Oliver Norwood. 2nd February 2017. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

The former WBA Super World featherweight champion was in France to witness history as Michael O’Neill’s men competed at the European Championship finals for the first time ever.

The ‘Jackal’, born and raised in Belfast, was in the stands at the Allianz Riviera in Nice to see his nation’s opening game against Poland in Group C.

The fixture was decided by Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik’s second half strike but defeat didn’t plague Frampton’s experience.

“It was outstanding,” said the 30-year-old. “I went to the first game against Poland, the game we lost, but it was an experience that I’ll never forget.

“I remember walking down the street in Lyon and it was one of the best days of my life with the atmosphere. It was just a sea of green.

“I feel like I’m lucky because I’m watching probably the best ever Northern Ireland team. We’ve got so many good players, Michael O’Neill has done an amazing job.”

The Northern Irish sit second in their World Cup qualifying group, behind leaders Germany, and they face Norway at Windsor Park on Sunday.

Should they progress from the group it would secure the nation’s first appearance in the finals of the tournament in 32 years when they featured in Mexico.

“We haven’t got world class players, we’ve got very good players, but no real world class players,” said Frampton. “However, as a team we play amazingly well together and O’Neill deserves a lot of credit.

“He received an MBE recently and he was very deserving of it. I think what the football team is doing for the country at the minute is special and, like a lot of other sportsmen, they’re bringing the country together.

“Long may that continue. We could qualify for the World Cup, it’s a tough group in the qualifying campaign with Germany but I think that we’re sitting pretty and we could get in to one of the play-off places.”

Meanwhile, Frampton was full of praise for midfielder Norwood and the influence that he has on the international stage.

With Norwood closing in on promotion to the Premier League with Brighton, Frampton said: “I know Ollie, he’s playing for Brighton now. He’s a great player, brilliant at set-pieces - corners and free kicks - and he can ping a ball about.

“He’s a good central midfielder and somebody that I admire a lot. He’s a player who could be playing in the Premier League next year with Brighton. It looks like they are going to go up.

“The more players that we have playing in the Premier League, week in, week out, the better it is for the international team. Ollie Norwood is a very good player.”