SHANE Ferguson says playing in Euro 2016 has given him a confidence boost that he hopes will benefit Millwall this season.
Ferguson played in the opening group fixture against Poland and was part of a squad that qualified for the last 16 before losing to Wales.
Northern Ireland and their fans were one of the biggest stories of Euro 2016, and Ferguson said he “learned a lot” from the experience.
“It was unbelievable,” Ferguson admitted. “I came for the last friendly game before the Euros and started. I didn’t think I would be starting the first game of the championships. When I did get the call I was obviously delighted, it was probably the biggest moment of my career.
“I was grateful for it and loved every moment I was out there, it was the best experience I’ve ever had.
“We saw a lot of stuff online and the fans stayed after the games. We didn’t realise how big it was until we got to the homecoming in Belfast and saw everyone come out and to say thanks. It was unbelievable.
“I think a lot of people had written us off but we proved a lot of people wrong. The lads were outstanding, and the coaching staff, everyone pulled together and made it a great experience for everyone.
“It’s something you’ll never forget and take with you wherever you go.
“It gives you a lot of confidence and I learned a lot when I was out there. Obviously now my focus is on Millwall.”
That confidence was evident at Broadfield Stadium on Saturday when Ferguson provided two assists as Millwall came from 2-1 down to defeat Crawley 3-2 and record their third successive pre-season win.
Ferguson returned late to pre-season training after being given extra time off following Northern Ireland’s involvement in Euro 2016, and he admitted he is still behind his team-mates in terms of level of fitness.
“I enjoyed it,” Ferguson said of his first game in pre-season. “I’m just trying to get my fitness back and I’m looking forward to the season. I’ve a bit more to do to get back to where I was last season. I’m getting a lot of work done with the coaching staff and I’m getting sharper every day.
“I only had about 12 days off. But as soon as you stop doing it for a while you do lose (fitness). I knew when I came back the lads were a few weeks ahead of me and I’ve a lot of work to do to get back to where I was at the end of last season.”
A year ago Ferguson was unsure of his future after playing in pre-season with Newcastle United. Now he is an established first-team player at a Millwall side that are one of the favourites for automatic promotion to the Championship.
And he believes that with younger talent like Ben Thompson and Mahlon Romeo in the squad combined with the more experienced players like Steve Morison, the squad is ready for the challenge.
“There are lads like Ben and Mahlon who have a lot of hunger, you can see it in them,” Ferguson said. “They want to impress all the time. Even with younger lads like Kris Twardek, he’s been doing brilliantly pre-season and making an impact. It pushes the older lads on, too, they want to help the young lads do as well as they can and that helps everyone out.
“You’ve got the likes of Moro who’s experienced and helps everyone along. It’s coming along nicely and we’re all looking forward to the start of the season.
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