Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill savouring biggest test yet against Germans

Beating World Champs would be NI's greatest triumph ever

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill refused to be drawn on whether beating World Cup holders Germany would be the greatest result in Northern Ireland's football history.

He may not say it, but I will. Yes, victory over the champions of the world in Paris tonight in the Euro 2016 finals would go down as the nation's finest hour and a half.

Nothing would top it, not the heroics of our 1958 World Cup side in Sweden or when Gerry Armstrong scored the winner against Spain in their own bullring in 1982. Even the famous and much celebrated David Healy-inspired 1-0 success against England at Windsor Park in 2005 would lag behind.

A win for O'Neill's men in the Parc des Princes stadium would be number one in the Northern Ireland hit parade.

And of course it would take the boys into the knockout stages of the tournament. A draw will probably do the same, or even a narrow defeat, but how O'Neill would savour a triumph in his biggest match as a manager just days after leading the team to a 2-0 victory over Ukraine - the country's first three points in the European Championship finals.

Tonight the Northern Ireland players will battle against some of the best players in the world.

O'Neill has the same challenge, taking on Joachim Low.

"I always think that the one thing you get, even as a small nation, is the opportunity to coach against some of the best in the world and I regard Joachim Low as one of the best in the world. He has won the World Cup, there are very few alive that can say that," said O'Neill.

"He has won the World Cup in South America which was massive for a European country. It has been one of most enjoyable things about international football to go against Claudio Ranieri, Fabio Capello and others.

"This is an opportunity for me and for the players to come up against the best in the world. That's what the tournament is about. We came here to test ourselves and I think we're ready to meet that test."

Right now O'Neill says his only focus is on Northern Ireland's game tomorrow and not other matches that may help his team qualify for the next stage.

He said: "The permutations aren't really that important at this moment. We've got to make sure we do everything possible to make sure we keep progression in our own hands."

In Euro qualifying the Republic of Ireland took four points from the Germans. O'Neill said he had spoken with namesake and Republic boss Martin O'Neill about those games. Martin's advice? "To get as many people behind the ball as possible!" said the younger O'Neill with a smile.

The questions were wide ranging in yesterday's press conference for O'Neill from the potential of facing hosts France in the last 16, which he would welcome, to what Brazil, beaten 7-1 by the Germans in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals, could learn from Northern Ireland. Playing to the final whistle was the reluctant reply.

The most important question related to what team O'Neill would select versus Germany, after making five changes from the Poland defeat to the Ukraine victory, including leaving out striker Kyle Lafferty.

Becoming Kings of Lyon last Thursday, O'Neill opted for a 4-3-3 formation. There's a strong belief in the German camp that he'll go 3-5-2 this time.

He won't be afraid to make more big calls, but if he goes for three at the back they will be Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans with Michael McGovern behind them. The wing-backs could be Paddy McNair and Stuart Dallas with Chris Baird, Oliver Norwood and Steven Davis in midfield. Up front Lafferty may return in attack alongside Conor Washington. Time will tell.

"A lot of people were flabbergasted by that radical change in the team but eight started against Greece when we qualified," said O'Neill.

"There's different circumstances around every game. Germany came in to prepare to play seven games, they have the luxury of doing that with the quality of their squad. We have to prepare on a game by game basis.

Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Pacemaker Press 25/6/2016 Northern Ireland v Wales EURO 2016 Final 16 Northern Ireland Fans during this evening's game at Parc De Princes in Paris. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 25/6/2016 Northern Ireland v Wales EURO 2016 Final 16 Northern Ireland Fans during this evening's game at Parc De Princes in Paris. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland fans apply facepaint outside the stadium, as Wales fans walk behind them, prior to the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's fans at todays game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Northern Ireland fan Justin Turner ready to support his side against Wales during Saturdays Round of 16 EURO 2016 match at the Parc des Princes, Paris . Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans ready to support side against Wales during Saturdays Round of 16 EURO 2016 match at the Parc des Princes, Paris . Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland suporters in the stands show their support ahead of the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans enjoy the atmosphere outside the stadium prior to the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans wave a flag outside a bar prior to the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in facepaint prior to the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
OLBIA, ITALY - JUNE 25: Darren Clarke and Amy Boulden pose with the flags of Northern Ireland and of Wales during The Costa Smeralda Invitational golf tournament at Pevero Golf Club - Costa Smeralda on June 25, 2016 in Olbia, Italy. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images for Professional Sports Group )
Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans pose for a selfie in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Helen McConnell and daughter Lottie, wife and daughter of Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Helen McConnell and daughter Lottie, wife and daughter of Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Helen McConnell and daughter Lottie, wife and daughter of Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Vanessa Chung, wife of Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Juneve Lamont, wife of Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Northern Ireland fans show their support in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans show their support in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Northern Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong greets the fans beside the pitch before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Northern Ireland fans cross the Lagan Weir Foot Bridge in Belfast, enroute to the Titanic Fanzone to watch Northern Ireland V Germany in Euro 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland fans cross the Lagan Weir Foot Bridge in Belfast, enroute to the Titanic Fanzone to watch Northern Ireland V Germany in Euro 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland fans cross the Lagan Weir Foot Bridge in Belfast, enroute to the Titanic Fanzone to watch Northern Ireland V Germany in Euro 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
A young Northern Ireland fan cheers on his side in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. Book and magazine sales permitted providing not solely devoted to any one team/player/match. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Northern Ireland fans in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fan Neil Armstrong from Ballymena in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans Robert McCreadie, Aaron Baxter, Craig Baxter and Farquhar in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fan Aaron Baxter from Newry in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans Ivan Thompson and John Tilson in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans Neil Melville and Colin Maxwell in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans Alison and Chris McHenry in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland fans in Paris where Northern Ireland will play their final Euro 2016 group game against Germany at the Parc des Princes.
Jimmy Nesbitt parties with Darren Ryles and friends in Lyon
Jimmy Nesbitt parties with Darren Ryles and friends in Lyon
Jimmy Nesbitt parties with Darren Ryles and friends in Lyon
Northern Ireland fans party with Jimmy Nesbitt in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Northern Ireland fans in France
Jimmy Nesbitt mingles among fans in Lyon. Credit: Green and White Army Caravan in France
Belfast Telegraph journalists Adrian Rutherford and Claire Williamson (right) with Claire Graham.
Northern Ireland football fans descend upon Place Antonin Poncet, adjacent to the fan zone in Lyon, France.
Steven Mawhinney, from Dromore, and friends with Cool FM presenters Pete Snodden and Rebecca McKinney
Steven Mawhinney, from Dromore, with Cool FM presenter Pete Snodden
Steven Mawhinney, from Dromore, in France for the Euro finals
Andrew Kerr (Articlave), Jonno McCaughan (Coleraine), Roger Woodend (New Jersey, USA)
Philip Whyte (42), from South Belfast, and friends stand in front of the Poland team bus
Colin Murray poses with fans in France during the Euros
Mark Hunter (left) from Coleraine who now lives in Vancouver and Matt Livingstone from Coleraine who now lives in London at the Northern Ireland v Poland game on Sunday
Ballyclare man Jonny Lindsay with Jimmy Nesbitt.
Rob Latimer (34) from Dunadry bumps into James Nesbitt in Nice after Northern Ireland v Poland.
Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Pat Jennings (centre) in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Kate Hoey shows her support in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
First Minister Arlene Foster with IFA President Jim Shaw and IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson at Poland V Northern Ireland in Nice, France. Photo by Press Eye
Northern Ireland's players pose ahead of the Euro 2016 group C football match between Poland and Northern Ireland at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice. / AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZTOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland fans during Sundays Euro 2016, Group C match against Poland at the Stade de Nice, France.
Michael O'Neill manager of Northern Ireland looks on prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Poland and Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera Stadium. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland fans show their support in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice.
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis (centre) during the warm-up before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice.
Northern Ireland fans during Sundays Euro 2016, Group C match against Poland at the Stade de Nice, France.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice.
A Northern Ireland fan shows her support in the stands before the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Stade de Nice, Nice.
Northern Ireland v Poland Euro 2016 Group C Northern Ireland Fans From L-R Graeme Hamilton, Conor Munn, Scott Robinson and Luke McCreery at this afternoons Euro 2016 International at the Allianz stadium in Nice on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Poland Euro 2016 Group C Northern Ireland Fans Graeme Hamilton, Conor Munn, Scott Robinson and Luke McCreery with Polish fans at this afternoons Euro 2016 International at the Allianz stadium in Nice on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland v Poland Euro 2016 Group C Northern Ireland Fans Graeme Hamilton, Conor Munn, Scott Robinson and Luke McCreery get a selfie with Polish Fans at this afternoons Euro 2016 International at the Allianz stadium in Nice on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
First Minister Arlene Foster joins Northern Ireland fans in Nice ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday.
Northern Ireland v Poland Euro 2016 Group C Northern Ireland Fans David , Stuart and Colin Bell at this afternoons Euro 2016 International at the Allianz stadium in Nice on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
First Minister Arlene Foster joins Northern Ireland fans in Nice ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday.
First Minister Arlene Foster joins Northern Ireland fans in Nice ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday.
First Minister Arlene Foster joins Northern Ireland fans in Nice ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday.
Mark Jones and son Jack in Nice with Carl Frampton
Carl Frampton with fellow Northern Ireland fan James Tait in Nice
Northern Ireland supporter and Groom Stuart Stockman (second left) outside the Ma Nolan's Irish pub in Nice, France ahead of his team's opening match against Poland in Euro 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 11, 2016. See PA story SPORT Euro2016 StagNI. Photo credit should read: Michael McHugh/PA Wire
Northern Ireland supporters enjoying the sights of Nice, France ahead of the team's opening match against Poland in Euro 2016.
Northern Ireland fans appear on the balcony of their hotel on the seafront near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans are joined by a Polish football fan as they arrive on the seafront near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans appear on the balcony of their hotel on the seafront near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans appear on the balcony of their hotel on the seafront near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans arrive on the seafront near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans arrive on the beach near Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. PA
Northern Ireland fans Chris Geoghegan and Richard McKnight from Belfast bump into Gary Lineker in France.
Philip Wright on tour with the Green and White army. They left on a 6am flight to Nice.
Ballymacash Northern Ireland supporter's club head off to France. Pic: Andrew Clarke
David Johnston and fellow Northern Ireland fans head off to France.
Crawford McCullough's 'mancave' in Bangor Co Down.
Northern Ireland flags flying in France. Picture: Dennis Russell
Adam Topping (33) from Scarva Northern Ireland in St Raphael. He has tickets all the way to the final so will not be home until July 11.
A Northern Ireland fan samples some ice cream in Lyon, France. Thursday June 9, 2016. PA
Colin Porter passing the time before he heads to Nice. Pic: Gary Porter
Home for Bedfordshire based Dave Price and his pals for the next two weeks at least
Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans on their way to France for Euro 2016. Pic: Gregg Clarke.
Northern Ireland fans Eddie McCullough and Ian Thompson pictured at the boulangerie in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of the opening Euro 2016 game against Poland in Lyon on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland Fan Ian Thompson from Ballymena travel threw St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
A Local meets with Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel threw St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans on their way to France for Euro 2016. Pic: Gregg Clarke.
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans on their way to France for Euro 2016. Pic: Gregg Clarke.
Northern Ireland Fan Russell Bridgett from Ballymena travelling through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland fans Eddie McCullough, George McFall, Ian Thompson and Russell Bridgett pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland fans Eddie McCullough, George McFall, Ian Thompson, Darren McDonald and Russell Bridgett pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Local family and now Northern Ireland fans pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of the opening Euro 2016 game against Poland in Lyon on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
The boulangerie in Georges de Reneins, France with its window decorated ahead of the opening Euro 2016 game against Poland in Lyon on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland fans Eddie McCullough, George McFall, Ian Thompson and Russell Bridgett pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland fans Eddie McCullough, George McFall, Ian Thompson, Darren McDonald and Russell Bridgett pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Local family and now Northern Ireland fans pictured in Georges de Reneins, France ahead of the opening Euro 2016 game against Poland in Lyon on Sunday. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland Fans Ian Thompson, George McFall , Russell Bridgett , Darren McDonald and Eddie McCullough from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Northern Ireland FanRussell Bridgett from Ballymena travel through St Georges de Reneines in a camper van, on the way to Nice as N Ireland face Poland in their opening match on Sunday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

"We have five players who have started only one game, we're fresh, we don't feel we have to freshen the team up, it's more likely to be tactical."

O'Neill is one of the most talked about coaches at the Euros in France.

Four years ago he was also at the tournament but in a different guise, hiring a car in Poland and driving around to see Northern Ireland's upcoming World Cup opponents, Portugal and Russia. One game took him to see Portugal play the Germans in Lviv in Ukraine.

O'Neill takes up the hilarious story.

"Me and a friend hired a car in Poland. We flew from Belfast to Krakow - easyjet - and that was a great base for us," he recalled.

"But we signed an insurance waiver at the airport to say we wouldn't take the car out of Poland so when we got to the border in Ukraine we couldn't go across.

"We were a bit stuck. 'What did we do?' That border's not like Newry today, there were checkpoints and all that, loads. We'd a brainwave when we saw this bus with Germany fans. Lots of people were staying in Poland and going across to Ukraine.

"I think it was about 50-60km to Lviv and we approached this wee bus. My mate tried to explain what we were doing and who I was, so that we could get on. They didn't know who I was, I was only in the job about six months, so when we got on they started to google me and 'Northern Ireland manager' to see who I was.

"I didn't have accreditation or anything - I'd not gone through the IFA - we just wanted to go on our own steam. We'd our own tickets, I wanted to go to the tournament and sample it, see what it was about.

"I wanted to see Russia and Portugal and I saw them both twice. I saw some great games. In this tournament everywhere we go we've got police security. But that's nice, we belong in this tournament. I sampled that one, now we're in this one and we're part of it."

And O'Neill is intent on sticking around Euro 2016 for some time to come.

Belfast Telegraph

Read More