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Stephen Craigan

Stephen Robinson can carry on Michael O'Neill's success at Northern Ireland but other candidates are strong too

Stephen Craigan


In the running: Stephen Robinson

In the running: Stephen Robinson

In the running: Stephen Robinson

It seemed inevitable that Michael O'Neill would leave his post as Northern Ireland manager once the Euro 2020 play-offs - originally scheduled for March, then June - were postponed indefinitely.

When the news actually broke during the week, however, there were mixed emotions nonetheless; clarity that the time had come first of all but also sadness that one of our most successful international bosses had managed his last Northern Ireland game.

Michael has spoken passionately since the announcement, mostly about his pride in managing his country and the passion the supporters bring to Windsor Park.

He also praised the players and thanked them all for an overwhelming level of commitment and professionalism, which helped deliver so many unforgettable highs and great experiences for everyone. It's been an absolute joy to watch.

The Northern Ireland job is now a really attractive one and the team are in such a good place.

Over the past few weeks, Michael has spoken openly about the three candidates he feels are in the running to succeed him and I know all three reasonably well.

Ian Baraclough

What an incredible job 'Bara' has done with the Northern Ireland Under-21s, traditionally a tough age group to get results with as the senior manager tends to take the best talent.

Ian has reinvented himself as a coach in a different environment after the disappointment of his last manager's job at Motherwell and has thrived. He is a genuinely nice guy - quiet at times but has a real passion for football, which is infectious.

The unexpected results achieved with the U21s will have caught the IFA's attention, and rightly so. Ian has already said he'd love the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland.

Tommy Wright

Tommy has brought great consistency to St Johnstone during his seven-year tenure. I have never worked with him but watched his teams from afar and always admired how they have continually outperformed much more glamorous clubs with bigger budgets.

He gets the best out of players and his sides are always difficult to play against. Success for St Johnstone is staying in the Scottish Premiership and aiming for the top six, which Tommy has done continually.

The Scottish Cup win in 2014 was the club's first ever major trophy and will never be forgotten in Perth. He's a passionate Ulsterman and would love the chance to lead his country out at Windsor Park.

Stephen Robinson

Michael actually paired me with Stephen just after I retired in 2012, which got me involved in coaching with the Northern Ireland U17 and U19 groups.

It was all new to me but I noticed immediately that Stephen was very detailed in his preparation for every training session and game. He liked to make sure the players knew their individual roles and it drove him on.

Over the past eight years I've worked with him in different capacities from international football to club football at Motherwell and watched him grow into the manager he is.

He has adapted his coaching style and his team's approach as he's progressed and Motherwell have enjoyed a terrific few years under Stephen's guidance. He's not frightened to make big calls and is ruthless when he needs to be.

Sitting in third is a wonderful achievement for Motherwell on the back of two major Cup finals in recent seasons, meaning European football is set to return to Fir Park, where the fans laud Stephen.

When you put it all together, with three very good candidates - and probably more - I don't envy the decision IFA president David Martin and chief executive Patrick Nelson have to make in filling the boots of Michael.

Each individual has a strong case, of that there's no doubt. I've been closest to Stephen and I know if he gets the deserved opportunity to manage Northern Ireland, he will dedicate every minute to continue the job his mentor Michael started and won't disappoint.

Belfast Telegraph