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Don’t blame me for Stewart Regan’s SFA departure, says Michael O’Neill

O’Neill revealed he was encouraged to remain with Northern Ireland by plenty in the football community.

Michael O’Neill insists he cannot be blamed for Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan’s resignation having revealed several people in football assured him the Northern Ireland job was more attractive than Scotland’s.

Northern Ireland boss O’Neill has signed a four-year contract extension less than three weeks after confirming he did not want the Scotland managerial post following discussions with the SFA.

Regan faced flak for failing to land his chief candidate and shortly after O’Neill announced he would be remaining with Northern Ireland, the SFA chief executive quit after eight turbulent years.

Asked if he felt sorry for Regan, O’Neill replied: “Yeah, of course, but it’s the nature of football.

“I wouldn’t like to think I should get blamed for (his resignation) at the end of the day. Scotland have a lot of things to sort out within their association and in all honesty it’s nothing to do with me now.

“They came and identified me as their preferred candidate and the discussions were very professional, very amicable, but they went for a manager who was contracted to another association and it is very difficult to leave your country. It’s not like trading in Sunderland for Middlesbrough.

“I’m disappointed to see what happened with Stewart but that is the nature of football. I wish Scotland every success, but ultimately my focus is on Northern Ireland.”

O’Neill, who led his country to the last 16 at Euro 2016,  not only spoke with his senior Northern Irish players about carrying on but also with others in the wider football community.

While he would not divulge names, O’Neill did reveal the general view was that continuing to lead Northern Ireland was a more appealing proposition.

“When you speak to people you always get a feel for things,” he added.

“There were a lot of people didn’t see the real merit to leave Northern Ireland to go to Scotland.

“The decision was made by myself and it always was going to be. I’m not that influenced by people.

“Having made the decision I’m 100 per cent in my mind that it was the right decision.”

The improved six-year package O’Neill has penned is worth in the region of £700,000 a year.

The 48-year-old spoke with both West Brom and Sunderland as well as the SFA prior to signing it and denied he remained with the Irish Football Association purely for money.

“The decision I made wasn’t a financial one,” O’Neill argued.

“Ultimately, the money in club football is greater than it is in international football.

“I’ve been offered opportunities to be better off financially in club football, before (Euro 2016 in) France and subsequently, after this campaign as well.”

Though his previous deal ran until 2020, O’Neill conceded he did sense it might have been the end of the road for him after November’s play-off loss to Switzerland, when a controversially-awarded penalty in the first leg sent the Swiss to Russia.

Had Northern Ireland won that play-off, it would have been the first time the nation had qualified for back-to-back major tournaments.

And O’Neill, who the IFA opened contract talks with shortly after that tie, feels he still has unfinished business.

“I’m 48, I’m young as an international manager,” he said.

“I’ve got six years experience of international football. I have the experience of going to a major tournament. I just felt this job wasn’t finished.”

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