Let’s be frank. Northern Ireland fans haven’t been this excited since 1986 and the World Cup finals in Mexico. For those non-sporting obsessives, the draw for next summer’s European Championships takes place at The Palais de Congrès in Paris this evening and – pinch yourself yet again – the name of our wee country will be in the hat alongside many of the giants of world football.
So who or what should we be hoping for, or indeed looking to avoid?
According to some, Group A, in which hosts France are guaranteed to be, is the most attractive proposition for the Green and White Army. All matches will be based in the northern part of France, close to Paris. If we’re drawn alongside France, watching Michael O’Neill’s men for the three games in theory would be inexpensive, relatively speaking.
If Northern Ireland are placed in any of the other groups, the distance between group matches will be considerably more arduous.
But the more mouthwatering aspect of the draw concerns our potential opponents. A meeting with the Republic isn’t possible at the group stage because we are in the same pool, so Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty spoke for many fans when he identified England as the opponents everyone wants.
The tournament has all the potential to be unlike anything Europe has seen before. UEFA’s move to increase the number of participants at the finals to 24 was a brilliant move. After years in the international wilderness, both Northern Ireland and Wales are back in the big time and, with England and the Republic also there, let’s just say it won’t be a summer to be Scottish.
What are Northern Ireland’s prospects? Well, we were dismissed as no-hopers before a ball was kicked in the qualifiers, so let’s hope the critics write us off once again. Whoever we are drawn against, it will be a footballing summer to treasure.