The 2016 European Championships burst into action next week, and for the first time since 1986 Northern Ireland will be strutting their stuff on the main stage following a superb qualifying campaign under Michael O’Neill.
We managed to grab a few words from former Norn Iron international Iain Dowie, to get his thoughts on how the Green and White Army will fare in their first ever Euros.
With 50 caps and 10 goals for Northern Ireland, Dowie is expertly placed to lend his thoughts on the international game.
The former Crystal Palace manager spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News at our #ForTheFans event this week, where he revealed just what O’Neill’s boys can achieve in a fiendishly tough group, how England will get on, plus his banker bet and dark horse for the tournament
I think Northern Ireland have a decent chance of getting out of the group and I don’t say that lightly given we’re up against Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
Our team spirit may be an advantage, but Germany always turn up with team spirit, and Poland are a very difficult side to predict. They have a lot of great talent in there.
It’s incredible how good they are, but Northern Ireland won their qualifying group, as top goalscorers of that group too.
Michael O’Neill has found a way to get the best out of his players, and Steven Davis has been colossal.
I’m also tipping Paddy McNair to emerge as a superstar.
He’s been playing in central midfield under Michael, which he’s rarely done for Manchester United, and he’s been sensational.
The key man is going to be Steven Davis, who has been superb for us. But it’s very difficult to mention any one individual without also talking about Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley, the three that we play with at the back.
Evans seems to be reborn defensively since he went to West Brom under Tony Pulis. Cathcart has been our best defender throughout qualifying and McAuley has become a goal machine.
They’re a really good three, so as a unit that’s our biggest asset.
Someone to surprise a few as a holding midfield payer is that man McNair. I’ve been watching him in that role in the last few friendlies, and there’s nothing he can’t do. He can pass it like a midfield player, he can hit it like a centre-half, he can run like the wind, and he’s a big unit.
I think Jose Mourinho will love him at Manchester United, he’s similar to Nemanja Matic at his peak. That’s a big statement to make but I think Jose is going to love him.
My banker bet is France to reach at least the semi-finals.
I’m going to go with Austria. They’re good, very good.
They’ve got a lot of under-rated players, and then there’s Marko Arnautovic and David Alaba who are excellent. They’re a really decent side.
I think France are the ones to win it. I think Belgium are still a tournament away from winning one, and the absence of Vincent Kompany for them is a terrible shame for player and country.
He won’t do it, he won’t, but I wonder if Roy might play a back three this summer.
He never does it so I’m sure he won’t, but England’s squad could suit that.
When you look at it, he could have John Stones in the middle with Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill either side and then the two wing-backs could fly on. You’d still get your two men up front and three in middle.
But whatever Roy chooses to do I think they can surprise a few.
I like Harry Kane, I think he’s a top drawer player and the boy Dele Alli is special.
He’s got a bit of everything about him, a bit of Steven Gerrard, a bit of Frank Lampard, he’s all of it rolled into one. He’s top drawer and I love his edge.
I don’t mind if he has a little kick-out, you’ve got to be a winner and he’s a winner, so England could do very well, but hopefully not as well as Northern Ireland!
Well, I thought about whether Roy would mix it up and offer something different in Andy Carroll, but given who he’s played in midfield that’s not how England tend to play these days as they’re not blessed right now with great out and out wingers.
But I like Marcus Rashford, I watched him play the other day and he’s so quick. I think he’s a special talent, and if he’s good enough he’s old enough.
Why not take him? If Roy thinks he’s going to be a special player for England, why not take him now? He’ll be miles better for it in the next tournament.
What a rise, he was barely mentioned a few months ago and now look. So good for them, and the way he’s going, he’ll soon become a NAP for first goalscorer!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.