As we head into the latest round of Euro 2016 qualifying, we are faced with the very real possibility that both national teams from this island will, for the first time, qualify for the same major tournament. The top two teams in each group will qualify automatically and the third place team will go into a play-off, giving teams who aren’t in the top two seeding groups a realistic chance of going to France in 2016.

With Northern Ireland having won their first three games in qualifying for the first time in their history, optimism could not be higher. Away wins in Hungary and most impressively, Greece, mean Northern Ireland have control over their group and their manager, Michael O’Neill, seems to have instilled a team spirit and togetherness that was lacking from previous campaigns. Those qualities will only get you so far however, with the success of this team’s start to qualifying lying mainly with a solid back four that has conceded just once and Michael O’Neill’s ability to somehow get Kyle Lafferty looking like a prolific goalscorer at this level.

Tougher tests are sure to lie ahead for Northern Ireland in this qualifying campaign but with UEFA expanding the European Championships to 24 teams, starting in France in 2016, Northern Ireland will surely not have a better chance of getting to a major tournament for the first time since the ’86 World Cup in Mexico.

For the ROI, the last gasp John O’Shea winner in Gelsenkirchen last month against reigning World Cup holders Germany, has renewed the feeling of optimism and team spirit that was nowhere to be seen in the latter stages of the Trapattoni era. The ROI head into Friday’s qualifier against Scotland at Celtic Park knowing a win or even a draw will put them in a very strong position to qualify and they will have arguably played their two most difficult away games.

Compared to Northern Ireland, the ROI’s group offers up a tougher challenge with Germany, Scotland and Poland all believing they have a realistic chance of finishing in the top 3 places. With a good set of premier league regulars such as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, John O’Shea and Shane Long, combined with the developing young players, most noticeably Jeff Hendrick and Jack Grealish, the mood around the camp is one of quiet confidence at the moment.

The ROI may have to settle for a play-off place if we are to see the boys in green make it to their second consecutive European Championship, but with the from under Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane so far and the renewed sense of optimism, you would not put it past them sneaking into the top two in what is a tight group. They will certainly not have many better opportunities to qualify for a major tournament in the years to come.

Eugene Tinnelly

Eugene Tinnelly

Sports Correspondent at The Scoop
Our sporting guru, keeping you up-dated on the latest sporting action around Queen's University and beyond!
Eugene Tinnelly