Hamilton preaches community spirit

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The Independent Online
With rain threatening the Republic of Ireland's final European Championship qualifying match against Portugal in Lisbon tonight, Northern Ireland must wait to hear whether they will also have to delay their final game against Austria at Windsor Park.

Both matches must be played at the same time, as the outcome of the Belfast match could have a decisive effect on the final placings in Group Six. Victory for Northern Ireland would probably allow the Republic to qualify - at Austria's expense - for the finals next summer.

"We wish the Republic well. I am only sorry we are going to watch the European Championships and not play in them," Hamilton said yesterday. "We want to finish on a high note. "

Hull City's goalkeeper, Alan Fettis, who has a hand injury, declared himself fit to play after a training session yesterday.

Children from local schools were given time off to attend the session. More than 200 people assembled around the Donegal Celtic ground in west Belfast, which was once a no-go area for security reasons.

The Irish FA is visiting several grounds in the next nine months as part of a community-building exercise. It is a project Hamilton is only too happy to be a part of. "This team is not my team but that of everyone in the province," he said. "People come and support us. I believe we should go and show thanks for that support. I think it is an important exercise. These training sessions give kids a chance to meet their heroes."

Donegal Celtic's chairman, Jim Burns, said: "This is a milestone for us and a breakthrough in community relations. We could never have envisaged a visit like this six months ago."