EURO 2016: Michael O’Neill stays grounded ahead of crunch clash

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O’Neill is refusing to be seduced by talk of next summer’s European Championship finals.

An impressive four wins from five games has catapulted Northern Ireland into qualification contention.

They sit second in Group F, one point behind leaders Romania who O’Neill’s men meet on Saturday night at Windsor Park (7.45pm).

O’Neill admits victory in Belfast would represent “a massive stride” towards Euro 2016.

But while fans continue to dream of next summer’s showpiece in France, O’Neill is taking nothing for granted with five crunch qualifiers remaining.

“I haven’t thought about it (next summer’s Euro finals). That’s the truth,” said O’Neill.

“I haven’t thought any further ahead. I think it’s very, very dangerous to look too far ahead. The nature of international football is, you need things to fall in line for you and for a country this size and the resources we have, we need that.

“We still have four games after this and we need the availability of the players.

“What we do have is a really good group of boys, honest boys who recognise the opportunity that lies ahead of them.

“But at no point have we discussed or heard any of the players saying ‘if we do this and that’. All we’ve talked about is the significance of getting three points in the next game.”

Despite taking a cautious approach to the campaign, O’Neill welcomes the increased expectation filtering through the turnstiles.

“We wanted to create expectation. When I came into the job, I said it’s not just about picking up caps. You want to create memories and things you have to look back on,” he added.

“A number of players in this squad have memories in terms of big nights, but they haven’t had any real memories of going close in qualification. That’s what we wanted to change.

“We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to change that, but nothing more at this stage. It’s nice that everyone’s talking about it and the hype that surrounds it.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with group leaders Romania, O’Neill insists victory is very much on Northern Ireland’s radar.

“We won’t be playing for a draw. We’ll try and win the game. Pure and simple,” said O’Neill.

“With Finland and Hungary playing each other, if results were to go our way, we could find ourselves with a seven point cushion over Hungary.”