Northern Ireland head to a first major tournament for the first time in 30 years on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run. Can “Norn Iron” continue this great form or is the luck of the Irish about to run out?
This is Northern Ireland’s first ever appearance at a European Championships and there first major tournament since 1986.
Michael O’Neill’s side overcame the odds to finish top of group F in qualifying finishing one point ahead of second placed Romania and also did the double over 2004 European champions Greece.
Southampton midfielder Steven Davis is Northern Ireland’s main man as they will look to the experience of their captain to keep level heads and offer strength in the heart of this team.
The 31-year-old has got an incredible work rate and as we have seen for Southampton last season, he is a great provider from central midfield and may even chip in with a goal or two, with five goals for the Saints last season.
There will be a lot of nerves in this team as they compete in the first major tournament but it will be up to captain to keep his team focused on the task at hand. Steve Davis will be an important man both on and off the pitch for Northern Ireland.
One to watch
Paddy McNair may have struggled to find a way into Man United’s first team but the 21-year-old has been an emerging star for Northern Ireland throughout qualifying, as he aims to show he has what it takes to play with the best.
Normally a central defender, McNair has excelled in a new holding midfield role under Michael O’Neill and after a string of fine performances, he has really grown into a confident and versatile player for the North.
Whether as a defender or a midfielder, McNair looks like he is going to be an important player for years to come in the Northern Ireland side. He will hope to put in some good performances at Euro 2016 as he aims to break into Man United’s first-team.
Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Hamilton), Alan McManus (St Johnstone)
Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Luke McCullough (Doncaster), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Chris Baird (Derby), Paddy McNair (Man United).
Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Shane Ferguson (Millwall)
Strikers: Will Grigg (Wigan), Kyle Lafferty (Birmingham), Conor Washington (QPR), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)
Prediction: Group Stages
Michael O’Neill is doing a fantastic job with Northern Ireland as they qualified for a first major tournament in 30 years, but they will need to work a lot harder to make it out of a tough group.
Northern Ireland finished top of their group in qualifying but it wasn’t exactly a hard one. They may be on a 12-game unbeaten run but the likes of Germany and Poland will be a big threat to that record.
They are a good team and while I think they could pick up a few points to finish third in the group, I don’t think they will be one of the four best third-place teams to make it through to the knock-out stages.
Northern Ireland’s Fixtures
12 June v Poland (1700)
16 June v Ukraine (1700)
21 June v Germany (1700)