Last Saturday evening, every Irish football fan, from both the North and South of Ireland sat down in front of their TV to watch the draw for the 2016 European Championship Finals which take in place in France next summer. In recent years it has been the fans of the Republic who have gone to the big football party and this time their colleagues from the North have joined in on the fun. It is the first time since 1986 that Northern Ireland have appeared at a big finals. Both teams qualifying is great news for the Island of Ireland. Both qualified in such different circumstances, Michael O'Neills men never looked like they would be in any danger of qualifying as they had a great campaign. It was a slightly different story for Martin O'Neills side as they had to rely on the play off route. But in the big scheme of things who cared ? Both sides are there and totally deserve it. So what did the draw produce for the two nations who,s fans are delighted to be going to the big show next summer.
Like all things involving UEFA and FIFA, they never do things like most associations and instead of placing balls in a bag and drawing them out, they go about it in the most ridiculous of ways. They had so many vases on show they could have opened a flower shop. When everything settled down and the draw was completed it could not have come any tougher for the two Irish sides. Both the O'Neills now know their faith and who will they be up against.
The Republic have been placed in a group that contains Belgium, Italy and Sweden. Tough as it may seem I have a different view on the challenge ahead. If you look at the group on its merit, it can be argued that the Italians will be favourites and I am not so sure how they even ended up as a second seeded team. Sweden only got through to this stage via the play offs and the Belgians have been under achieving now for quite a while. If you put all these facts together it can be argued that if Martin O'Neill can get a solid tactical plan together, then his side have a real good chance of at least getting through to the next stage. Because if you look at the Republic's form recently it includes a victory over the World Champions Germany in Dublin. The way O'Neills sets up his team, they are a very hard team to beat and they work together as a unit and fight for each other, something I am sure has been influenced by assistant manager Roy Keane. The other teams in the group will not fancy coming up against the Irish. So on paper it's a tough group, but as we all know, you can fold paper up and throw it in the bin.
Michael O'Neill and his Northern Ireland side are cock a hoop to be at the Finals and waited in anticipation as their group was unveiled.
They come into this tournament in great form and like their counterparts from the south not many of the other nations in the draw would have fancied to have been drawn against them. As it turned out that honour fell to Poland, Ukraine and Germany. Michael O'Neill has done a great job since taking the lead role for the North. He will relish getting to work on his game plan for the tournament. His first phone call was surely to his counterpart in the South, to find out exactly what can be expected from Germany and Poland as ironically both these sides qualified out of the Republic,s group. They will also be a hard side to beat and they go into this competition with a winning mentality that could take them through the group stage. The fact they play their third game against the Germans could be interesting if they do well in their two opening matches. We are now counting down the days to the start of this tournament and I, like many of the fans up and down this Emerald Isle are looking forward to the big kick off so much. Let the games begin.