Belfast Telegraph

I don't regret taking Northern Ireland job, says Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill is slowly but surely getting used to life as the Northern Ireland manager.

Earlier this month he passed the 100 day mark as boss, though he's been so busy he didn't realise time had elapsed so quickly.

Now in an open interview with the Belfast Telegraph, O'Neill has given an insight into what the job is really like.

Since succeeding Nigel Worthington, O'Neill has suffered disappointment and frustration and today admits it can be a lonely job — but he says he has no regrets whatsoever about taking the biggest football post in the country.

When O'Neill was in charge of Shamrock Rovers the matches came thick and fast.

With Northern Ireland the 42-year-old has only been at the helm for one match to date – a 3-0 defeat at home Norway in February.

He has found out that the life of an international boss dictates that you see many more fixtures than you are actually involved in.

O'Neill could probably recite the flight times from Belfast to various cities in England and Scotland he has travelled to so many games following his unveiling at Irish Football Association headquarters in January.

Aside from all the matches, O'Neill has been busy meeting people who he feels can help his vision for Northern Ireland, including potential new players, and attempting to put structures in place for our underage sides which will bear fruit for the senior team in years to come.

O'Neill reveals: “Since coming in I've tried to do as much as possible and fully immerse myself in the job and when you do that you tend not to notice the time.

“I didn't really know what to expect in this job. It is very much about preparing for games but in between those games you have to put your structure in place. I've done that in terms of putting people in place to watch games and also when I go to watch games I try to utilise my time, so I'm getting the maximum out of any trip I'm on.

“I am travelling a lot. I'm getting used to spending a lot of time on my own as an international manager. It's part and parcel of the job and I have to get used to that.

“I have no regrets at all about taking the job though. I'm enjoying it.”

O'Neill took the defeat to Norway hard. He wanted to start with a win and big performance. In truth the 3-0 scoreline was an unfair reflection of the 90 minutes — a 1-0 loss would have been nearer the mark.

“You get over the initial disappointment and when you do that you start to analyse the performance and you see that there were positive elements and there is a lot to work with,” he says.

“The performances of Ryan McGivern and Shane Ferguson down our left side were good and I thought Dean Shiels played well.

“Also it was great to see Martin Paterson back and playing after all his injury problems and being able to put in the work-rate that he put in.

“The problem is that you don't have another game quickly enough to get that defeat out of your mind but I'll just have to deal with that.”

Since the Norway result Northern Ireland have slipped to 100 in Fifa's world rankings.

An opportunity to improve on that will come in June against Holland in a friendly in Amsterdam, though given the opposition will be filled with high class players like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, it could be a long night, especially with the raucous Dutch fans determined to give their heroes a big send-off ahead of the European Championship finals.

“From a month before the Holland game I'll analyse the opposition. Holland can be scary enough so I don't want too many sleepless nights — maybe I should analyse them two days before the game,” says O'Neill, with a smile.

“It's a good game for our players. They don't have a long distance to travel, they are playing against a top class team in a top class stadium and I would anticipate a full house crowd because it is the last game for Holland before they go to the Euro finals. It's an opportunity for our players to show what they are made of and for me to work with them again.”

Like the Dutch, O'Neill will be at the Euro 2012 finals to watch World Cup group opponents Portugal and Russia. The first game in that campaign is in Moscow in September. He has not been letting the grass grow under his feet, but one senses that is when the real work will begin for O'Neill.

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