This summer promises to be a historic and memorable one for Northern Ireland, with Michael O’Neill’s men set to make their European Championship debut.
The Green and White Army were superb throughout qualifying to top their group, beating difficult opponents Hungary and Romania along the way to reach a first major finals in 30 years.
Drawn against Poland, Ukraine and reigning world champions Germany for this year’s tournament in France, Norn Iron are very firmly in underdog territory, but that might suit them just fine.
The loss of Chris Brunt is a blow, but they’ll have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and certainly have a squad capable of upsetting the best.
So here’s what you need to know about Group C’s underdogs…
Danger Man – Kyle Lafferty
Norwich man Kyle Lafferty netted seven of his country’s 16 goals in qualifying, and at 28 he’s entering his best years.
Lafferty’s 6ft 4in frame has plenty of potential to cause defenders constant problems, while also allowing Northern Ireland to lump it long should circumstances dictate, and offering a huge target for one of the side’s specialities – set pieces.
He’s a tidy finisher too, and he’s shown his commitment by heading out on loan to Birmingham until the end of the season to stay as match sharp as possible, with opportunities at Carrow Road hard to come by.
Under the Radar – Oliver Norwood
After failing to make the cut at Manchester United, Oliver Norwood has firmly established himself for Huddersfield, and currently, Reading.
With Steven Davis in the holding role, Norwood has revelled for Norn Iron in recent years, and he could really make a name for himself this summer.
Having just turned 25, the Burnley-born man has continually impressed under O’Neill and is very much one of his country’s best hopes to take the fight to Germany and the rest this summer.
The Lynch Pin – Steven Davis
Arguably Northern Ireland’s finest player of the current generation, skipper Steven Davis is homing in on a century of caps for his country.
At 31, he’s got years left in him plus bags of experience to offer the younger members of the squad, and the Southampton man was crucial to his nation’s qualification hopes.
Davis netted twice in the 3-1 win over Greece, and Norn Iron’s only defeat of the campaign came against Romania – the only match he didn’t feature in.
Davis will have a heck of a job up against the likes of Poland and Germany, but if he can keep his team organised and disciplined, they’ll be significantly better off for his leadership.
Northern Ireland are, sadly, the outsiders to win this summer’s tournament at 500/1, but that won’t stop the Green and White Army having a whale of a time in France.
Anyone for a run to the last eight can back O’Neill’s men at 14/1.
They’re the group and tournament underdogs, but Northern Ireland fully deserve to be in France and if anyone can cause an upset, it’s these guys.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.