Belfast Telegraph

Billy McKinlay's NI future in doubt after Hornets call

By Stuart McKinley

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is facing a search for a new assistant after his number two Billy McKinlay was appointed as the new head coach of Watford – just a matter of days after being brought onto the club's coaching staff.

McKinlay has been handed the reins after Oscar Garcia stepped down following a recent health scare. The Spaniard spent a week in hospital earlier this month after suffering from chest pains.

There has been no confirmation as yet from the Irish FA with regards to McKinlay's position with the international team, but it is unlikely that he will be with the squad when they meet up in Belfast next week before the Euro 2016 qualifier at home to the Faroe Islands on Saturday week, followed by a trip to Greece the following Tuesday.

Losing his trusted sidekick would be a blow to O'Neill, particularly as he has developed a close working relationship with the players since taking on the role in February 2012.

McKinlay could be replaced, at least for the Faroe Islands and Greece games, by Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton, who worked alongside O'Neill for a short spell while he was manager of Shamrock Rovers.

Stephen Robinson, who is in charge of the under-16s and under-17s, is another in the frame to step in on a temporary basis and both men are employed by the IFA.

O'Neill is expected to clarify McKinlay's situation when he names his squad for the double header this afternoon.

And Paddy McNair is in line to be fast-tracked into the senior set-up, three days on from making his Manchester United debut.

The 19-year-old's rise to the Old Trafford first team under Louis van Gaal could make calling him up too much for O'Neill to resist, particularly as the under-21s, for whom he only made his first start earlier this month, aren't in action.

Ryan McGivern, who joined Port Vale in the summer, will be recalled.

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