EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS: Michael O’Neill turns to Roy Hodgson to ensure Northern Ireland are ready for finals

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is hoping to benefit from the experience of England boss Roy Hodgson as he prepares for his country’s first major tournament in 30 years.

O’Neill’s side finish their triumphant Euro 2016 campaign in Finland on Sunday night, with top spot in Group F still up for grabs but qualification assured.

O’Neill’s assistant Jimmy Nicholl played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, but it is new ground for most at the Irish FA.

So O’Neill plans to speak to Hodgson, who has managed at three tournaments with England and Switzerland and sent O’Neill a message of congratulations.

“It’s a new experience for me as a coach, for the players and for the association,” he said.

“I’ll pick the brains of people like Roy Hodgson who have been to major tournaments, but maybe I’ll have to do that before the draw because they might not help us if we’re in the same group!

“Roy sent me a lovely message complimenting all the players. He’s worked with five of our squad, and he named them and wished them all the best.

“There’s a lot to do in terms of preparation and I’ll use the period wisely.”

O’Neill is also pondering the possibility of checking in with Ireland’s rugby union team at the ongoing own World Cup.

He has already visited them in the past to share information and methods and would be interested in seeing how they operate in the throes of a competition.

“In the summer I spent the day with the Irish Rugby World Cup team. I looked at their preparations and how they do things at over Carton House,” he explained.

“Maybe that’s something I would consider revisiting now they’re in the World Cup - their preparations and how they go about things.

“I told the players earlier the preparation starts now.”

Those preparations include the selection process for training camps in France, a process O’Neill did not get involved with personally for fear of tempting fate.

Instead he deferred to the IFA’s head of international administration, David Currie.

“It’s already under way and has been for quite some time,” said O’Neill.

“UEFA ask for your preferred venues in July, so David has already been to see the venues.

“I didn’t take any part in that because I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but we have our selected venue and I’ll obviously go and see that as soon as possible.”

Having already made history as the first ever Northern Ireland squad to reach a European Championship, O’Neill has set his side the task of adding another feather in their caps.

No side has ever qualified having been drawn as a fifth seed but that both Northern Ireland and Iceland could now achieve such a feat.

A point in Helsinki would be enough for O’Neill’s men to stay ahead of Romania at the Group F summit, and that means no experimental or sentimental team selections.

“It’s been a great trip for us just to see the mood of the players since Thursday night, they’ve been in great form, but there is a focus in us as well,” he said.

“We come wanting to win the game and the group - 23 points is an amazing tally to get to.

“I’ll pick a team to win the game, simple as that. No one has said they could do with a rest and that’s great because we want competition for places.

“We’re not going to hand out starting places easily and that’s what I’ve said to the players.”

That means likely returns for seven-goal top-scorer Kyle Lafferty and midfielder Chris Baird, both suspended for the Greece match.

Gareth McAuley and Oliver Norwood are also in line to play, completing a full house of 10 starts in the famous campaign.