Northern Ireland shows that sport can lead as well as follow…

Last year was a blast for both parts of the island at the finals of the Euros. This year, whilst the Republic faces a steep climb to get to the second place playoffs, Northern Ireland must concentrate on pushing their rankings to get higher seed status in those playoffs.

Northern Ireland has come a very long way since 2002 when Neil Lennon felt compelled to retire as team captain after death threats. Strong leadership off the pitch from the IFA in tackling sectarianism has been matched by Michael O’Neill’s achievements on it.

The News Letter has picked up a great story, of a Talkback listener (and Republic supporter) from West Belfast who was taken to Windsor Park by DUP MLA Jim Wells…

The News Letter reports:

Mr Weir said he had an “absolutely fantastic” time, adding he did not feel intimidated at all. “It has totally changed my mind from what I’d thought before.”

Whilst Mr Wells was at some pains to note:

“I’m not seeking for people like Ciaran who felt they couldn’t come to Windsor Park to start supporting Northern Ireland. “I just want them to know times have changed and they can come along and enjoy a great atmosphere with nothing to intimidate.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty