Shane Ferguson has been in the shadows at Newcastle – but he’s part of something special with Northern Ireland

Shane Ferguson
Shane Ferguson

It’s been a long time since Shane Ferguson was truly part of things at Newcastle United.

Now on loan at Millwall, it’s been almost three years since he kicked a ball in anger for the club.

Shane Ferguson

Shane Ferguson

Yet Ferguson is part of something very special across the Irish Sea.

Northern Ireland could qualify for Euro 2016 tonight, when they take on Greece at Windsor Park.

Michael O’Neill’s side need just two points from their remaining two games to be certain of a place in next summer’s tournament, which is being staged in France.

It’s a remarkable story.

It would be unbelievable – it’s something I’d never forget – but we can’t think about that. We’ve still got a job to do and we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground.

Shane Ferguson

And Ferguson has been a part of it.

“If someone had said at the start of qualifying that we’d be in this position, we’d have snapped their hand off,” said the 24-year-old.

“You can see how close we are as a team.

“In the first game against Hungary, we went down 1-0 and scored two goals. That kick-started the campaign.

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

“Michael O’Neill’s done a fantastic job. He’s given us a lot of confidence, and we go into every game thinking we can get a result. It’s great to be part of it.”

The spirit in the squad was again evident last month when Kyle Lafferty scored an injury-time equaliser against Hungary.

Ferguson came off the bench with O’Neill’s 10-man side trailing 1-0.

“Lots of stuff was happening,” he said. “It was a tough situation to come into, you just do your best for the team. Thankfully, we got the equaliser.”

That result set up the Greece fixture.

Should Northern Ireland reach their first-ever European Championships, and first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, the significance of the achievement can’t be under-stated.

Ferguson, however, is reluctant to look beyond the Greece game.

“It would be unbelievable,” he said. “It’s something I’d never forget.

“But we can’t think about that. We’ve still got a job to do and we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground.”

It’s more than five years since Ferguson made his Newcastle debut in a League Cup tie away to Accrington Stanley.

That season, then-manager Alan Pardew predicated a bright future for Ferguson, a technically-gifted player capable of playing on the wing or at left-back.

There have since been darker times, not least last season when injury restricted him to just two appearances for loan club Rangers.

Ferguson has been on the road for the past two and a half years, having also had two loan spells at Birmingham City.

Having recovered from his knee problem, the quietly-spoken player is happy to finally let his feet do the talking for League One Millwall.

“It’s great to be back playing football,” he said. “Because of my injury, I hadn’t started a game since we played Greece almost a year ago. I’m really enjoying it, and they extended my loan.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence, and the manager has been happy with me.

“It’s been really good, and it’s been easy to settle in. A couple of results haven’t gone our way, but we’ve got a really good team here.”

As for his Newcastle future, Ferguson, out of contract next summer, is reluctant to look too far ahead.

“I’m just enjoying my football and taking each game as it comes – that’s all I can do.”