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O'Neill feeling quietly optimistic

Michael O'Neill is upbeat about Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 prospects but accepts he could be out of a job if he oversees a poor campaign.

O'Neill's side start their Group F journey in Hungary on Sunday evening looking to banish a disappointing fifth-placed finish in World Cup qualifying and take advantage of an inviting draw.

They have avoided any heavyweight opponents and will be battling for a top-three finish in a section that also contains Greece, Finland, Romania and the Faroe Islands.

There is a sense of genuine optimism heading into the opener in Budapest but O'Neill is equally aware that failure to deliver on that will carry a high price.

"With any new campaign there is excitement, hope and belief and this is no different," he said.

"The players firmly believe this is a campaign we can do something in.

"I don't look at it as a type of make or break situation for myself, I look at it as an opportunity and hopefully the players do too.

"But any international manager now basically works campaign to campaign. Even if you are contracted over and above a campaign if you have a poor one it may be the end of you anyway.

"At the end of the campaign that will be the time to review things and review what the future holds for me.

"But the main focus is on the job in hand, not a personal point of view.

"It's all about preparing the team well and giving ourselves the best chance of qualification."

Whether or not O'Neill stays on, Northern Ireland fans are sure to see significant changes in the near future.

Indeed, with Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird, Gareth McAuley and Roy Carroll all long past 30 and the likes of Steven Davis and Chris Brunt not far behind, O'Neill admits the current squad on their last opportunity to reach the big stage.

"It's a big campaign for a number of the players, it may well be the last campaign for some, and we want to make sure we do as much as possible to give ourselves the chance of a top-three position," he said.

"The motivation is always qualification, simple as that.

"The likes of Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes, given the international careers they've had, deserve to play in a major tournament and this will present an excellent opportunity.

"It is achievable."

Hungary represent a tricky opponent, lacking major star power but coming off the back of a creditable showing in their World Cup qualifying group.

O'Neill expects it to be the first of many close calls.

"Everyone thinks the third placed play-off spot makes it so much easier but the reality is Hungary, Finland, Romania and Greece will all fancy themselves to finish in the top three at least," he said.

"Hungary took 17 points in their last group which is a very commendable total in any campaign. When you have that type of campaign expectation will be higher and I would think expectation here will be high.

"This is a strong Hungary squad with a lot of home-based players, which has its benefits.

"They have a strong togetherness because of that.

"We don't expect coming here to be any easier than Greece away or Romania away but it will give us a good benchmark for the level we need to get to."

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