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Northern Ireland at Euro 2016: Plan France trip early while price right, say experts

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland supporters have been warned to start planning for Euro 2016 immediately - or risk being hit in the pocket.

The focus is already turning to France after Michael O'Neill's side booked their place at next summer's finals.

Thursday night's win over Greece kick-started a massive party which lasted well into the early hours of yesterday morning.

But now comes the task of preparing for the tournament itself.

A massive scramble is expected when tickets are released in December.

The Green and White Army is anticipated to hit France in record numbers for the biggest sporting event of the year.

Tournament organisers Uefa said 2.5million fans in total are expected in the stadiums - including a million foreign visitors.

But the huge demand will come at a cost.

Hotels and flights are likely to sell out fast, and those who are successful will face inflated prices.

Travel expert Simon Calder said the quicker fans move, the more they will save.

"The crucial thing at this stage is to start planning how you will get to France," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Northern Ireland beat Greece 3-1 at a raucous Windsor Park to secure qualification for their first major tournament in 30 years.

They will play a minimum of three group stage matches. Their opponents, plus the dates, times and venues, will be determined in Paris on December 12.

And while the uncertainty makes the planning more difficult, Mr Calder said fans should still be working on how to get there.

"We know when the tournament kicks off, so we can start planning from there," he added.

"I would be looking at getting either the ferry from Cork across to Roscoff in Brittany or going to England and travelling by train to Lille.

"Another crucial thing is accommodation, and frankly the prices will go through the roof as soon as we know who is playing where.

"I would plan to go camping - it will keep costs down on what you might otherwise be paying."

Mr Calder estimates a return ferry could cost £300. Fuel, motorway tolls, campsite fees and food will add about £50 per person per day.

"It is possible to do it for as little as £600 - but you need to get planning now," he added.

Yesterday Northern Ireland's jubilant but bleary-eyed footballers were cheered and applauded as they arrived at Belfast City Airport hours after storming their way into history.

The celebrations, which included a massive street party in Belfast city centre, had lasted well into the night.

However, yesterday it was back to the serious business of preparing for tomorrow's final qualifier in Finland. A draw in Helsinki will ensure Michael O'Neill's side finish top of their group.

There was a noticeable spring in the step of dozens of fans waiting to board their flight.

Glenda Johnston from Carrickfergus was married at Windsor Park five years ago and has not missed a game in almost a decade.

"I actually cannot believe what happened last night," she said. "I'm so happy. It means so much."

Team captain Steven Davis, whose two goals helped secure qualification, said the players were enjoying the limelight.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet. It was an incredible night," he said.

"We couldn't have asked for it to go any better. It is hard to put into words at this moment in time."

Northern Ireland's historic win has been hailed by some of the country's sporting greats.

Golfer Rory McIlroy, who was in the stands at Windsor Park, hailed it as a "great night for football".

Referring to the host nation for the 2016 championships, he tweeted: "Anyone for France next year?", before adding: "Unbelievable result for the Republic too! Great night for the island of Ireland, north and south.

"Hopefully see both teams in France next yr."

World champion boxer Carl Frampton, who was also cheering on from the south Belfast stadium sidelines, said the players had made him feel proud of home.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter to convey congratulations.

"Huge congratulations to Northern Ireland on qualifying for the European Championships for the first time," wrote the PM.

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