Press Association “The beauty of this campaign is that third place gets you a play-off game and presumably not against a big nation. “But the start has given them the best opportunity in years and that is down to Michael and the players. “But being Northern Ireland we won’t get too ahead of ourselves and we can’t get ahead of ourselves. “We have tough games coming up.” Wright stepped down as O’Neill’s goalkeeping coach in the summer of 2013 after he was appointed St Johnstone manager but he could not be happier for his former boss and his players. “It has been a brilliant start for Michael and the lads,” the former Northern Ireland keeper told Press Association Sport. “You could not ask for a better start. “I am pleased for him and the players because I know the job he does and the difficult circumstances the job brings. “They have had to take a few defeats on the chin to get where they are now. “But I know, through working with him, that he has the backing of the players. “And I know from speaking to him that he has the belief in the players that it would turn for him and they could get the type of results they are getting at the minute. “Three out of three has given them a platform and if they can maintain that form, they will qualify for the Euros for the first time. Tommy Wright has praised Michael O’Neill for working through adversity with Northern Ireland to have the country dreaming of Euro 2016. Hopes of a first appearance in the finals of a European Championship took another step closer to being fulfilled on Tuesday night with a 2-0 victory in Greece. Goals from Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty gave O’Neill’s side their third successive Group F victory – Northern Ireland’s best ever start to any World Cup or European qualifying campaign – to keep them top of the table with nine points.
“The feeling is very bittersweet. You see Saracens going through to the quarter-finals as one of the best runners-up on 17 points. You are left kicking yourself after what happened in the Clermont game here at Thomond Park,” said Foley, referring to December’s 16-9 home loss to the French side. “You can’t lose at home and hope to qualify with the calibre of teams that are in your group. It is very hard to go and win twice away from home in the group we had this year. “Getting the win against Sale in round one and having an excellent contest here against Saracens… and then to turn up here against Clermont at home and lose, ultimately, when you look back at it, it’s what cost us. “This win will give us confidence. We have had a very tough week leading into this Sale game, mentally more than physically within the group in terms of where we are and where we thought we were. “When you come out of that, you come out of it stronger, because we all have stuck together and made sure we gave our answer today and played right to the 80th minute.” The former Munster number eight and captain added: “Fellas did that for the people that mattered to them. They wanted to show the work, the sacrifices they put in week in and week out that it is not all for nil. It was great to score right at the final whistle (with Conway going over). “It was a good physical contest out there and we didn’t shy from that in the first half. In the first half we were playing into the elements. At one stage they were camped on our line and the boys kept turning up. I know we suffered a yellow card (for Conway), but we upped the ante during that period and we held them off. We reaped the rewards of that in the last 20 minutes.” Sale did not provide a coach or player for post-match reaction. Press Association The Irish province, who led 13-10 at half-time, blitzed the bottom-placed Sharks with eight second-half tries to run out emphatic winners. There were try doubles from man of the match Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway, along with a penalty try and well-taken efforts from Keith Earls, Pat Howard, Tommy O’Donnell and Duncan Williams. The Reds’ hopes of reaching the last eight were ended with their defeat away to Saracens last week. This is only the second time in 17 years that Munster will not be involved in April’s quarter-final clashes. Munster head coach Anthony Foley admitted his side’s 65-10 thumping of Sale at Thomond Park felt “bittersweet” as their hopes of making the European Champions Cup quarter-finals had disappeared before this round-six clash.