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Northern Ireland boss O'Neill 'won't join Norwich and walk away from World Cup dream'

 

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has reassured Northern Ireland fans that he's not about to jump ship and take the Norwich City job. O'Neill distanced himself from the post yesterday and denied claims there had been contact with the Championship club.

The former Shamrock Rovers chief, who was also linked with the Leicester City job after Claudio Ranieri's dismissal, says he remains focused on steering Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals in Russia 2018.

"There is not really any situation to be honest," said O'Neill, whose stock rose after an astonishing Euro 2016 campaign which saw Northern Ireland progress to the last 16 in France.

"It is something that has come out from the media in England, possibly particularly from that part of the world. People know that my name has been linked to positions, particularly in the Championship this past few months and some in the Premier League, but there isn't really any situation for me to comment on.

"Looking on from the outside, Norwich have gone down a different structure. They are looking for a head coach as opposed to a manager. Having been a manager all my days I see myself as being a manager, and my focus, as it has been for the last five years, is to continue in this role and do everything we can to get to Russia.

"It's not something more than that and it's not something I have given a lot of thought to. I've had a good chat with Patrick (Nelson) and there has been no official approach to the IFA and it's not something I am thinking about."

Norwich sacked Alex Neil in March, with Alan Irvine appointed interim manager, and their board are understood to be considering a number of candidates, including O'Neill.

"These links are going to happen because there's a perception I am doing a good job here, but I have always said that you cannot get too carried away," he added.

"You have to have balance in terms of how you think. When I signed my contract I didn't sign it on the basis I was going to leave within a few months.

"The way football is now, opportunities present themselves in various forms. The association know that and I know that. If an opportunity is presented to me and it's right for me and it's right for the association we will sit down and talk about it. It's no different from anyone else in any other job or club job. My priority is the next game and making sure we build on what we have done in the first phase of the campaign, and the next two games are huge for us because we have a real chance to put distance between ourselves and the Czech Republic and then look forward at the big games ahead."

Meanwhile, O'Neill admitted that Ross County goal machine Liam Boyce (inset) is "certainly knocking on the door" after scoring 21 goals this season.

The former Cliftonville favourite's form is a welcome lift for O'Neill, who will check on Kyle Lafferty's frame of mind following his release from Norwich.

"Kyle has been released in the last 48 hours so I will have a chat with him to see what his thoughts are because it is important he is in the right frame of mind and in the right place mentally when he joins up with us," added O'Neill, who was speaking at the launch of Electric Ireland's sponsorship of women's grassroots football.

"It's always tricky when your striker isn't playing, but Kyle has only started two games for us in this campaign, the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan games, and that's down to the fact that he has not been playing regularly.

"What we have now is the likes of Conor Washington, Josh Magennis playing more regularly for their clubs and giving us more options in that area.

"Liam Boyce now comes into that category on the back of the season that he has had, he is pushing more and more to be a starting player. We have more competitiveness in our squad and it means those players who were perceived as guaranteed starters have to make sure they are in the right form, mentally and physically, when they come.

"Liam is in the squad all the time and very close. I don't name him in the squad not to play him. Liam has been watched very regularly by myself and Jimmy (Nicholl). Sometimes the Scottish lads are watched more regularly, and that can be to their detriment as you have more chances to see them play poorly, but for Liam to score 21 goals in a team that has been in the bottom half most of the year is a phenomenal achievement.

"There is a huge amount of interest in him, not only in Scotland but England as well, and this has been his best campaign because he has been strong all season. He will come in with us and we will see how he is but he is certainly knocking on the door and he's in my thoughts.

"I do believe he can play at a higher level. In his first six months at Ross County it was difficult and he had to raise his fitness. He had an injury last year and faded a bit, but this year we have seen constant improvement and he's a young player who has only had three years of full-time football other than the spell in Germany."

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