"It would be a dream come true to reach the EURO finals in France," said veteran keeper Roy Carroll as he pondered Northern Ireland's Group F summit meeting with Romania.
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The prospect of gracing a major tournament for the first time is spurring on Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll as the autumn of his career closes in.
Aged 37, and with Northern Ireland top of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group F with a perfect record after three games, the man who plays in the English third tier for Notts County FC knows he will never be in a better position to realise his dream.
The well-travelled shot-stopper, who called time on a six-year exile to return to the international fold under Michael O'Neill in 2012, is determined to enjoy one final hurrah before he packs away his gloves.
The likelihood of that happening will increase if Carroll can help his country defeat Romania on Friday. Victory in Bucharest would assure Northern Ireland – who have never qualified for a EURO finals – of a five-point cushion at the section summit going into 2015 and edge them closer to their first major championship since the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Carroll, set to earn his 39th cap against Romania, said: "It would be a dream come true to reach the EURO finals in France. It's every footballer's dream to play at a major tournament. I look at the likes of Ryan Giggs, who was one of the best players in the world, and he never played in a major tournament.
"It would be nice to look back on my career in 20 or 30 years and reflect on playing at the EURO 2016 finals. It would be great to say 'well, I played in a major tournament'. It's a big motivation for me."
While Carroll dares to dream, he also holds firm to football's modern day mantra of focusing on 'one game at a time'. "It's great for our supporters that they are already dreaming of reaching the finals and it's nice when you hear fans talking about France," he said.
"But we cannot look beyond Romania on Friday night. As players we have to keep our feet on the ground. We have seven qualifiers left and there are a lot of points still up for grabs. There's a long way to go. We have to stay focused."
Romania, preparing for their first game under coach Anghel Iordănescu, are second, two points below the Irish. "We've made a great start to the campaign and the incentive is there to stay top heading into the new year," said Carroll, who has played for Hull City, Wigan Athletic FC, Manchester United FC, West Ham United FC, Derby County FC, Odense BK, OFI Crete FC and Olympiacos FC. "A positive result would do that. We want to be on ten or 12 points come the final whistle on Friday.
"The next round of qualifiers are in March, so it's a big motivation to stay top for the next four months. People might say nine points from four games would still be a great start to the campaign, but we don't think that way."
Northern Ireland have been hampered by the loss of key players to injury, including captain Steven Davis, Manchester United defender Jonny Evans, Derby County FC forward Jamie Ward and Newcastle United FC midfielder Shane Ferguson.
O'Neill said: "We have players missing, but it presents an opportunity for others to come in and make an impact. We have a number of options. I am confident others will step up to the plate and do a very good job."