Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

O'Neill backs IFA after 'freak weather'

The Windsor Park pitch was still covered in snow on the Saturday morning

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes the "freak weather" that forced the abandonment of his side's World Cup qualifier with Russia would have posed problems for any country.

The Group F clash was originally due to be played on Friday night, but a deluge of snow led to the contest being pushed back to Saturday afternoon. As it was Norwegian referee Tom Hagen and the FIFA match delegates decided to cancel just before 11am, having completed further inspections in the morning.

O'Neill feels the extent of the bad weather would have caused headaches for bodies bigger and wealthier than the Irish Football Association, and he said: "We experienced freak weather over a short period of time, from late Thursday and early Friday - freak weather which would have been challenging for any association to get the game on."

He added: "At the end of the day there are more modern stadia that could maybe deal with it but it's the first time in history it has happened (to Northern Ireland), so it's not something we haven't managed well, or have mis-managed over time."

There have been some suggestions that the lack of pitch covers could have contributed to the state of the playing surface and that the IFA might have done more to source some. But O'Neill was in no mood to lay blame.

"That's predominantly an operations thing, I am not involved in it at all," he said. "It's not really a manager's position to get into that. We certainly wanted to play on Friday and we also wanted to play today, but I'm not completely sure the Russians were so keen to play today.

"Either way, the referee made a quick decision this morning and said that for the safety of the players it was unrealistic to think we could play."

Behind the scenes, negotiations will start over when to play the rearranged Russia match. No decision was possible, with the visitors heading to London ahead of Monday's glamour friendly with Brazil at Stamford Bridge, but discussions will continue.

June is an option likely to be favoured by Russia, who already have one qualifier lined up during that international window, but Northern Ireland are not thought to be in agreement.

"We will now have to sit down with our counterparts from the Russian Federations and decide when we can stage the fixture," IFA head of communications Geoff Wilson told Press Association Sport.