Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Biting Back: Expectation on Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland is unrealistic

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

Michael O'Neill has yet to taste victory in nine matches at the helm for Northern Ireland
Michael O'Neill has yet to taste victory in nine matches at the helm for Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill looks and sounds like a man seriously under pressure. Not so much from his Irish FA employers nor even the disappointed fans whose patience was again sorely tested in that awful 2-0 defeat by Israel.

Right now the greatest burden on the proud Northern Ireland manager is self-imposed. Just as we expect more from his team, he expects more from himself. And the expectation on both fronts is entirely unrealistic, given the tools he has to work with.

Here is one decent fellow, like others before him, attempting to fashion a silk purse from a pig's ear and finding he hasn't a luck penny to put in it. So before he even considers falling on his sword or the inevitable lynch mob circle, here are a few things to ponder.

From that famous night in November 1981 when our march to successive World Cup finals began against Israel, they've gone forward and we've gone back. Could it be that, compared to 30, 20, even 10 years ago, our football talent pool is draining alarmingly?

Of 11,000 boys born here annually, say between half and three-quarters take up a sport. Football no longer enjoys the monopoly with more than ever before attracted to rugby, gaelic games, golf and even hockey and fair play to those governing bodies for making it so.

From those left to pick from, a mere handful will go on to become top flight professional footballers and half of those will likely court or be courted by the Republic.

That doesn't leave Michael much to play with. The pool is draining, we are still sinking and Michael looks like a drowning man. We should not push him under.

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