Despite making three appearances at the World Cup, Northern Ireland have never sent a team to a European Championship. All-time top marksman David Healy and one of the greatest ever players ever, George Best, sadly never graced a major tournament either. The current crop though, under manager Michael O’Neill, will get that opportunity to shine on the big stage in France. Expectations might be none existent so, whatever happens, happens. The boys from the Northern part of The Emerald Isle will no doubt be hungry to spring an upset.
How They Qualified: Incredibly, Northern Ireland topped their Group beating the likes of Romania in Bucharest and rescuing a point late on in Budapest against Hungary. Their low raking according to FIFA means they were still seeded in Pot 3 for the draw, something UEFA might need to look into while they are improving the competitiveness of the qualifying stages, meaning they were handed a tough group.
Coach: Michael O’Neill. In an eight-year international playing career he won 31 Northern Ireland caps and accepted the challenge of succeeding Nigel Worthington in December 2011. After a brief career in financial services, the Portdown-born boss entered coaching where his most notable success came with Shamrock Rovers when he won the Irish league in 2010 and 2011 and became the first man to take the wee club into the group stage of the Europa League.
Nicknames: Norn Iron, Green and White Army.
Key Man: Kyle Lafferty. The striker (pictured above) was instrumental to his country’s qualification to Euro 2016 in France by scoring 7 goals in 10 games. His domestic form is nearly non-existent however, after finding himself way down the pecking order at Alex Neil’s relegated Norwich City. This prompted the forward to move on-loan to Birmingham City at the end of the campaign to get some games under his belt and ease his coach’s concerns pre-tournament.
One To Watch: 20-year-old Manchester United centre-back Paddy McNair made a fine competitive debut against Greece while deputizing for the injured Jonny Evans. With the range of passing of a converted midfielder he allows Norn Iron to build from the back but for all his promise, may find it difficult to break the club and country Gareth McAuley –Evans partnership.
June 12, 12 p.m. vs. Poland
June 16, 12 p.m. vs. Ukraine
June 21, 12 p.m. vs. Germany
Goalkeepers: Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Hamilton Academical), Roy Carroll (Linfield).
Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonathan Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Aaron Hughes (Free agent), Patrick McNair (Manchester United), Chris Baird (Derby County).
Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood, (Reading), Corry Evans, (Blackburn Rovers), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest).
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic).