Portadown’s history-making Luke McCullough returned home from EURO 2016 this week aiming to use the experience as motivation for future Northern Ireland progress.
McCullough became the first player from the town to secure international selection for a major football finals thanks to his summer call-up.
The Doncaster Rovers defender may not have added to his five senior caps across Northern Ireland’s four games but is determined to push on and use the memories as a career stepping stone.
“It was a new experience for everyone and we certainly exceeded expectations but do not want to stop at EURO 2016,” said McCullough. “It is important we use it to push on together and get back to another major tournament.
“The size of the tournament was special and everyone has come home feeling so proud and positive.
“But it cannot become a one-off experience.
“I went into the tournament realistic about my chances of playing but was still determined to get as much out of it all as possible.
“Everyone put the same intensity into training and the preparations, with the message across the board how we all had a part to play.
“The team spirit which played such a big part in qualifying has now moved up another level.
“There are so many memories which I will never forget but, at the same time, there is that desire to make sure we push on.
“That can only help me moving forward and I take confidence from the whole experience.
“I return to Doncaster in the middle of July and am excited to carry this good feeling into the club season.”
Northern Ireland moved out of the group stages and into the knockout round before a weekend exit to Wales, with victory over Ukraine one key highlight.
“The homecoming in Belfast was great and support inside the stadiums something else,” said McCullough. “I was keeping in touch at times with family and friends, plus we could all use social media to follow the fans’ experiences in France.
“There is no question the backing of the fans was amazing and a real boost to everyone around the squad.”