Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill know the score to reach finals

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill are determined to home in on Euro glory for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The respective international managers may not have European Championship qualifiers until March, but they are already gearing up for what promises to be a thrilling and potentially successful year when qualification for the 2016 finals is on the line.

Michael and Martin were together on Monday night at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards paying tribute to Northern Ireland's record goalscorer David Healy, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The glittering ceremony gave the former Northern Ireland midfielders the opportunity to speak about what lies ahead.

Northern Ireland host Finland on March 29 - the first Sunday international at Windsor Park - knowing a win would move them a step closer to the finals in France.

O'Neill's men are currently in second place in Group F, with nine points from four games, just one behind leaders Romania and two ahead of Hungary in third.

Remember the top two qualify automatically with the team finishing next guaranteed at least a two legged play-off.

"We have put ourselves in a good position and this year we have to capitalise on it, especially with four of our remaining six games at Windsor," said Michael.

"The Finland match is important as it gives us the chance to get some momentum going, which was the case when we beat Hungary in our first match of the campaign last year.

"The players have done fantastically well to date and now there is belief that we could achieve something really special."

On that subject right back Conor McLaughlin, who won the prestigious George Best Breakthrough prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, said: "The players feel we can qualify for the Euro finals. To have nine points from our opening four games is a good return, especially with three of them having been away.

"We have to build on that when the internationals return in March."

It is understood impressive Fleetwood defender McLaughlin is being watched by Premier League Burnley and Championship sides Blackburn and Bolton.

Republic boss Martin O'Neill knows that his team are not in quite as healthy a position as Northern Ireland, but that could quickly change.

The Republic have seven points from their four games, the same number as Germany and Scotland and three points adrift of Group D leaders Poland.

Next up for Martin in March is a crucial clash in Dublin against the Poles, one of four fixtures left at the Aviva.

"We're in an extremely tough group. Obviously the World Champions Germany and Poland are strong and Gordon Strachan is doing well with Scotland. Like Northern Ireland we have important home games coming up. The aim will be to make those count," said the man who captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.

"It would be fantastic if both the Republic and Northern Ireland could qualify."

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