Steven Davis has admitted he never saw Northern Ireland’s stellar success coming.
At the end of the dismal World Cup 2014 campaign, Michael O’Neill’s men were still licking their wounds.
Lowlights included only taking two points from four games against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, and just one win.
But now, off the back of a storming Euro 2016 ride which saw Northern Ireland lose just once, ‘Captain Fantastic’ says the dark days are buried.
“Realistically, I never saw this coming. I don’t think anybody would have,” the Southampton midfielder said.
“At the start of this campaign, we had belief we could compete and improve but it’s been remarkable, just the turnaround we’ve had.
“It shows how funny football can be, you win a couple of games and then you have this great belief and start to feel you can go out and any game you go into you can win, so it’s important we keep this momentum now.
“We’ve got there, and in many ways the hard work’s done. We want to go to France and enjoy the occasion but at the same time we want to give a good account of ourselves.”
Davis has said he and his international team-mates now need to focus on staying fit for France, especially since O’Neill will be forced to whittle his final Euro side down to 23.
“I think so, a big positive of the campaign is that we have so many players, any of the ones who have come in have stepped up to the plate,” he added.
“We’ll obviously have games in between as well, and it’s important everyone does well for the clubs, stays in good shape, but it’s still a long way to go but now we can look forward to it.
“We’ve got a core group of players and there will be one or two who come into Michael’s thinking but now everyone has to go back to their clubs, hopefully do well and make sure they’re sharp whenever the games come around and make sure that each and every one of us gets on that plane which we’re desperate to do.”
He added: “It’s been an incredible week for everyone and one we will cherish forever, seeing the fans around the hotel and you can only imagine what they’ve been feeling and what the players have been feeling, so it has been a great few days and nice to finish top of the group.”