Photo surprise makes Northern Ireland's players feel right at home
Published 06/06/2016 | 22:46
Northern Ireland's players were made to feel at home they moment they arrived at their Euro 2016 base in France by the bedside pictures of their family that were left in their rooms.
Midfield pair Chris Baird and Oliver Norwood revealed the 23 men in Michael O'Neill's squad found images of their loved ones collected by the Irish Football Association upon their arrival at their headquarters north of Lyon.
For a group of players not accustomed to spending an extended period away on international duty, it was a home comfort provided by the IFA that was duly appreciated ahead of them representing a country competing at a finals for the first time in 30 years.
Describing the scene in each player's room, Baird explained: "When you just walk into your bedroom, just above the telly, you've got the final group - how it looked, your picture beside it and then - and I didn't know this - but the family.
"It's my wife and two kids in a bedside picture. Seeing the family side of things was really nice because I haven't seem them in a long time. It just makes it seem a bit more homely. We didn't expect it."
The importance of highlighting the historic qualification success, when Northern Ireland became the first team from pot five to top a group, was also welcomed by Norwood.
"It's important to have these reminders," added the Reading midfielder, who is expected to start when the Northern Irish begin the tournament against Poland in Nice on Sunday.
"These are special moments in our lives, in our careers, they are big moments that affected our lives and the whole country. The whole country is behind us.
"These little touches make a massive difference to us as players. Maybe you don't think they will but they do have a big effect.
"Of course we can speak to our families on the phone, but the effort the IFA has made to help us settle is really appreciated by the boys."
Despite heading into the Poland fixture next weekend on the back of a 12-game unbeaten run, Northern Ireland are perceived to be the outsiders in a group also featuring Germany and Ukraine.
The underdog tag is just fine for Norwood, though, and he has warned that all the nice decor will not distract O'Neill's side from upsetting the odds.
"If people underestimate us then feel free to do that because they'll get the shock of their lives," he insisted.
"We're 12 games unbeaten so we've proven that we can compete at international level. We're ready for Sunday."