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Chief Nelson banking on O'Neill loyalty to see him finish NI job

 

By Graham Luney

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson has hailed the leadership qualities of Michael O'Neill and says he's not gripped by the fear a club will swoop for the Northern Ireland manager.

O'Neill has been linked with a number of club jobs in England and Scotland, but Northern Ireland fans are relieved he's still leading the charge towards the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

Northern Ireland sit second behind Germany in qualifying Group C - in a strong position to secure a play-off spot - and the players have reproduced the same hunger and drive they displayed in the Euro 2016 adventure that culminated in a last-16 loss to Wales.

O'Neill, who has also been asked about the Scotland job even though Gordon Strachan remains in charge, agreed a four-year contract extension with the IFA in March last year, but his stunning success in the international dugout has placed the former Shamrock Rovers and Brechin City boss on the wanted list of clubs.

Nelson, however, is not concerned about that special relationship with O'Neill coming to an end.

"Michael has got a four-year contract with us, as is well documented," said the IFA chief as he helped kick off the Association's new five-year strategy at Windsor Park yesterday.

"I think he really enjoys the role he has here, he enjoys the challenge, understands international football as well as any manager that is out there at this point, he knows what he needs to do to take us forward, he enjoys the role and we enjoy him being here. We are looking forward to continuing to work with him.

"I think he has done a great job, he's a great thinker and very methodical. He is the most organised manager I have ever worked with in my years in professional football and we are delighted to have him.

"If he was standing here today he would say he is fully focused on the San Marino game (on September 1) and not looking anywhere beyond that."

Nelson also refused to be drawn on the issue of Celtic opting not to sell their ticket allocation for a potential Champions League qualifier against Linfield at Windsor Park.

Linfield will face Brendan Rodgers' side if they can beat SP La Fiorita of San Marino in the first qualifying round, the first leg of which kicks off tomorrow night at Windsor Park (7.45pm).

Celtic said they made the call over safety and security concerns even though other fans feel that effective segregation at the international venue would minimise the risk of any trouble.

"That's not a matter for me, the game will be in the National Football Stadium and Linfield play their competitive games here," said Nelson. "We are delighted with that and we will look forward to that being a good game as long as Linfield get past La Fiorita in the first qualifying round.

"It's a club matter, the game is happening here but what happens on Linfield match days is a matter for the club."

Nelson was more willing to talk about the Irish FA's new five-year strategy with its purpose "promoting, fostering and developing football for all".

The Association held consultations with Divisional Associations, NIFL, the Northern Ireland Women's FA, the Northern Ireland Boys' FA, the Premier Intermediate League, Championship Clubs and the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs.

Nelson added: "When we launched the last strategy, I think people's eyes were very wide to be honest because the number one aim in there was to qualify for a major tournament and we hadn't done it for 30 years.

"I think when you write a strategy and you put the aims on the walls, people start to make their decisions in favour of that and I'm not saying purely because we wrote a strategy we made it all the way to Euro 2016, but it changes the way the organisation thinks. If we aren't doing something that is contributing towards our aims then we need to change it."

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