Burnley-born midfielder Oliver Norwood revealed that Northern Ireland are looking to create even more history when they compete at Euro 2016 in France.
The Green and White Army topped Group F of the tournament’s qualifying stages, losing just once in 10 outings, to book their place in a major finals for the first time in three decades.
Having never qualified for the European Championship finals before, Michael O’Neill’s side will now look to progress again in a group they share with World Cup winners Germany as well as Poland and Ukraine. Ahead of tonight’s friendly with Belarus at Belfast’s Windsor Park, Norwood said: “It’s not long now,” he said. “We’ve got a friendly against Belarus first and then our final preparations for the tournament are against Slovakia. It’s all systems go at the minute and the excitement is starting to build.
“Everyone is playing to get in that 23-man squad now. They are exciting times and I’m really looking forward to it.
“We’ve got two big friendlies so people are training properly and trying to make an impression. The manager has got some tough decisions to make. Training has been sharp and of very good quality.
“Nobody wants to miss out on this opportunity now. After this it’s all about making the XI which is tough because everyone wants to play.”
Everyone is playing to get in that 23-man squad now. They are exciting times and I’m really looking forward to it.Oliver Norwood
The 25-year-old Reading midfielder, who made 43 appearances for the Royals in the Championship last term, is eagerly anticipating his nation’s opening fixture on June 12th.
They start out against Poland at Nice’s Allianz Riviera before taking on Ukraine four days later at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. The group stage then culminates against the World champions at Parc des Princes on June 21st.
“It’s going to be difficult but we’ve qualified for a major tournament off our own merit,” said the Royals midfielder.
“There are never any easy games but we seem to do well against the big teams. We’ve got to go to France and aim to get out of the group.
“We’re going there to lay a marker down and progress, otherwise there’s not much point in going. I’m confident that we can surprise a few people but I’m sure teams are just as aware of us as we are of them now.”
Norwood wasn’t born when legendary figures such as Pat Jennings, Sammy McIlroy, Gerry Armstrong, Norman Whiteside and former Clarets favourite Billy Hamilton helped Billy Bingham’s side reach the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He added: “You’ve got to look at the Germany game.
“That one is going to be huge and very exciting in Paris.
“That game has fallen quite nicely because it’s our last group game so hopefully we’ll have qualified by then.
“We can’t look too far ahead though. We’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us. Every game will be massive and the fans will be behind us in their numbers. The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. They’ll be there in the thousands and they’ll make a lot of noise.
“It would be great to progress. We’ve got to have belief. We’ve created history once but we don’t want it to stop there. We want to create more history. Hopefully we’ll be the ones being talked about by future generations.”