NORTHERN IRELAND PLAYERS TO WEAR BLACK ARM BANDS IN MEMORY OF DARREN RODGERS

Tragic Northern Ireland fan Darren Rodgers who fell to his death in Nice this morning

Tragic Northern Ireland fan Darren Rodgers who fell to his death in Nice this morning

THE Northern Ireland team will wear black armbands this evening in memory of GAWA supporter Darren Rodgers.

The 24-year-old from Ballymena died in the early hours of Monday morning after falling eight metres to his death from a promenade onto a rock beach in Nice.

His death came just hours after he had watched the Northern Ireland team take part in their first major finals competition in 30 years.

The news rocked the Northern Ireland team, manager and back up staff.

In honour of his memory, the team have decided to wear black arm bands to remember ‘Dardar’ as he was affectionately known to his friends.

During the Republic of Ireland’s game on Monday against Sweden, Irish fans sang ‘Stand Up For The Ulsterman’ on the 24th minute of the game.

This evening’s game against Ukraine kicks off at 5 pm.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill wants his players to stamp their authority on Thursday’s crucial Group C match against Ukraine in Lyon.

O’Neill’s side, regarded as tournament outsiders, are seeking their first points after an losing their first match to Poland.

“Seven teams lost their opening game so it is not as if we have been cut adrift from the tournament,” said O’Neill.

“We need to stifle our opponents and exploit their weaknesses. We did the first part of that well against Poland.

The 46-year-old said he had no injury worries for the match at the impressive 58,000-capacity Stade de Lyon.

O”Neill’s team will be expected to adopt a more positive approach, rather than the policy of containment employed against Poland.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said Darren Rodgers death was devastating to the team

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said Darren Rodgers death was devastating to the team

However, the 46-year-old acknowledged that Ukraine will have targeted this group match as the one they are most likely to win and hinted he may resist the temptation to pick another frontman to partner Kyle Lafferty.

“There are not many teams in this tournament who will play with two out and out strikers,” O’Neill said.

“So we have to think about that and whether we will change things during the match.

“We have spent most of our time since the Poland match looking at ways of doing things better.

“The margin between success and failure is so fine. Steven Davis was half an inch from maybe getting an equaliser and that would have put a whole new slant on it.”

O’Neill said Ukraine won 12 corners during their opening 2-0 defeat by Germany and pose a big threat at set pieces.

“We recognise their strengths and have to be ready to match their physicality,” he added.

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