Published Thursday, 28 August 2014
O'Neill has named a 26-man squad for his side's first fixture in the opening match next month against Hungary, with the suspended Jonny Evans the only notable absentee.
Evans has been struggling with a leg injury and made his first appearance of the season when captaining Manchester United in their embarrassing 4-0 defeat by MK Dons in the Capital One Cup this week.
He sits out the international following his red card against Azerbaijan in October.
Evans gifted the League One Dons their opening goal of the cup game and the two men who combined to punish the mistake - Ben Reeves and Will Grigg - are both in O'Neill's squad.
A handful of senior players who missed the summer tour of South America, including Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward, all make their comebacks for the Sunday, 7 September match in Budapest.
With Evans absent and O'Neill expected to stick with his preferred 3-5-2 formation, the group is packed with defensive options - including seven players capable of operating at centre-half.
Up front, Lafferty is back after making an impressive return to English football since signing for Norwich.
Strikers James Gray and Liam Boyce, midfielder Jonny Steele and teenage defender Liam Donnelly drop out of the squad that travelled to Uruguay and Chile at the end of last season.
It's difficult to go away from home and win but we’ll be looking to pick up a few victories on the road and be difficult to beat away from Windsor throughout the campaign.
The team will have a four-day training camp in London before the squad is reduced to 23 players for the game.
O'Neill said he was looking forward to the campaign beginning.
He told UTV: "For the Hungary game we have to go in with the belief we can come away with the win."
Northern Ireland begin their qualification campaign with three away games in their opening four matches.
O'Neill added: "There is no Germany, Portugal or a Russia which we have had previously in the group stages, but Romania, Greece and Hungary are strong countries and Finland will have aspirations to finish in the top three.
"I believe we are capable of taking something in all those games and certainly we showed we can in the last campaign.
"But we need more goals and to concede fewer and consistency will be crucial."
"We certainly have a fighting chance to qualify."
Northern Ireland squad to face Hungary:
R Carroll (Notts County), A Mannus (St Johnstone), M McGovern (Hamilton), A Hughes (Brighton), C Baird, G McAuley (both West Brom), C Cathcart (Watford), D Lafferty (Burnley), R McLaughlin (Liverpool), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood), L McCullough (Doncaster), A Bruce (Hull), S Davis (Southampton), C Brunt (West Brom), S Clingan (Kilmarnock), C Evans (Blackburn), O Norwood (Reading), S Ferguson (Newcastle), P Paton (Dundee Utd), B Reeves (MK Dons), K Lafferty (Norwich), N McGinn (Aberdeen), J Ward (Derby), B McKay (Inverness), J Magennis (Kilmarnock), W Grigg (MK Dons).
© UTV News