Belfast Telegraph

European Qualifiers: Delighted Northern Ireland supporters want manager to stick around

By Ian Cahoon

The Green and White Army were in fine voice in Helsinki last night after seeing their team secure top spot en route to Euro 2016.

More than 2,000 fans wrapped up warm and made their way to a chilly Helsinki to roar Michael O'Neill's men over the line in Group F.

Shortly after the final whistle sounded in the 1-1 draw, O'Neill, his entire squad and backroom team crossed the running track at the Olympic Stadium to acknowledge the part the fans have played in a memorable campaign. The supporters responded in kind as the reality of a first major tournament in 30 years began to sink in.

Paul Ballantine, a regular on the road with Northern Ireland, said: "It was just as good as Thursday night.

"Everyone appreciated the players coming over to us. I think we just need to keep playing the pattern that we have, because we've been successful with that.

"It'll all depends on who is in the group when we get to France, so all eyes are on the draw now.

"Until we know who we face, it's hard to make a prediction. You could have a group of death, but either way, we'll enjoy it."

Many fans are now keen to see Michael O'Neill tied down to a long-term contract.

Andy Scullion said: "Michael O'Neill has already said he wants a four year contract which is maybe surprising given that he is bound to be on the radar of a few clubs.

"It is a bit of a change from potentially having to fight for a manager to commit to the job.

"It is a no brainer to give him a four year contract. The IFA showed faith in him and have been re-paid for that.

"We will probably go through a similar four year process after Euro 2016 too. O'Neill has more than earned a long term deal."

Mark Davies is keen to see the manager pen a new deal, which runs out at the end of the Euro 2016 competition.

"When Michael O'Neill was first appointed, I was probably one of his biggest critics," he said. "I think the Portugal game was probably where it turned around. When he had them away for a week you could see what he could do.

"We want him to be given a four year contract and there's no point in messing about with a two year deal, it would deter clubs who come looking.

"When the draw was made we were thinking if we could get a play-off we would be happy and now we've topped the group, which shows the job he's done."

Paul Clugston, also in Finland last night, added: "The game itself probably turned into a bit of an anti-climax, but we got the point which topped the group and that's the most important thing

"It has been some turnaround, I was expecting us to be battling for third in this group.

"We were in Luxembourg when we lost out there, so to go from that to qualifying as group winners is brilliant.

"We can look forward to France now. We'll have to wait for the draw so that we can work out the logistics, but we'll get there."

Belfast Telegraph