Evans predicts brighter future for Northern Ireland
Jonny Evans believes Northern Ireland are heading in the right direction under Michael O'Neill and is hopeful of an improved showing in Euro 2016 qualifying.
The Manchester United defender has become an increasingly influential figure at international level during O'Neill's first campaign, relishing the chance to establish himself at centre-half after filling in at left-back for much of his early career.
And his enthusiasm for the Northern Irish cause is stronger than ever.
The side may have won just one of their seven matches in World Cup qualifying, a shock success over Fabio Capello's Russia, but the mood around the team has been positive under O'Neill and two strong showings against Portugal - a 1-1 draw in Porto and Friday night's unfortunate 4-2 defeat - offered further optimism.
Hopes of a place at Rio next summer may have gone but Evans raised the prospect of a real challenge for the European Championships in France, when the number of participating teams increases from 16 to 24.
"The extra teams are qualifying in the next campaign and that gives us a big incentive," Evans said.
"We need to go back to this campaign, finish as strong as we can and put points on the board. That might have an effect on the seedings and the draw for the next qualifying campaign.
"We're in a good place as a squad. It feels like we have things worked out a bit and if we can continue in that fashion there is that wee bit of hope.
"There is a good spirit among the squad. You hear people saying 'we enjoy it' but we actually are enjoying it. It's a good atmosphere."
Evans, speaking with new authority as one of the squad's senior men, identifies two key reasons for the increasing feelgood factor that is developing around the side.
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