Belfast Telegraph

Impressive O'Neill taking Northern Ireland to finals, says Ronnie

By Steven Beacom

Republic of Ireland great Ronnie Whelan has praised Michael O'Neill and believes he WILL guide Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals.

The former Liverpool midfielder insists that an appearance for Northern Ireland in the glamour stages of a major tournament would be a big boost for the country and reward for O'Neill.

Whelan is obviously more interested in how the Republic perform but that hasn't stopped him keeping an eye on Northern Ireland, who are second in their Euro qualifying group and in a strong position to make it to France next year.

Whelan, who won 53 caps, said: "You have to give Northern Ireland credit because it's clear the players have progressed really well over the last couple of years.

"I have been impressed by what Michael O'Neill has done with Northern Ireland. They are now getting results and are well placed in their group.

"Any manager who takes a country to the major finals of a tournament deserves credit and it looks like Michael is going to do that with Northern Ireland. He has done a very, very good job. He is a nice guy as well. I've worked with him a few times with RTE and he is a great fella."

Should O'Neill inspire Northern Ireland to the Euro finals, there is every chance clubs will come calling for him. Whelan, though, is not convinced he will leave the international job.

"You don't know. He might be enjoying it too much with Northern Ireland and may want to do more and more," he said.

On his own country's 1-1 draw with Scotland on Saturday which left the Republic in fourth place in their group, Whelan said: "I thought it was one of the best performances they've put in under Martin O'Neill, especially in the first half. They looked very dangerous and should have gone in further ahead than 1-0 which would have made it very difficult for Scotland to come back. They didn't do it and paid the price.

"It leaves us scratching around with Scotland for third place and a play-off. It is a very tough group with Germany and Poland in it. There are still four games to go and it's not dead but I think the best Ireland can do now is a play-off place."

Belfast Telegraph