Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: Friends told me not to take Northern Ireland job

As a player O'Neill kept up his schoolwork to please his father

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has said he was advised not to take the national job - and that as a schoolboy he had to promise his father he would keep up his studies if he wanted to follow the dream of playing professional football.

In a wide-ranging interview, broadcast on the BBC Stephen Nolan radio show this morning, the 46-year-old recalled his memories of Northern Ireland's last appearance at a major football tournament and the heroics of Gerry Armstrong against Spain in the 1982 World Cup.

He said it was his dream to play for Northern Ireland at a major finals, which never materialised, but that it was important his squad built on their impressive table-topping qualifying campaign for next year's European Championships.

He talked about how he was very academic as a child and had to phone home to get his O-Level exam results while he was on a youth training scheme with Manchester City.

He said he expected to join the staff at City, but so good were his results he carried on his studies at A-Level at the behest of his father Des.

He said: "When I went to Newcastle, part of the agreement was that I attended Gosford High School, where Alan Shearer had just left to join Southampton.

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"I got in the team a bit quicker than was expected and playing for Newcastle's first team and going to school to study A-Level maths in the city was difficult to say the least.

"The biggest stumbling block I had was a World Cup game against Malta, it was scheduled weird and was at the same time I had my A-Level maths, so ultimately I never sat it.

"I did later sit an Open University maths exam at Queen's the day before we played the Republic. Bryan Hamilton gave me permission to do that.

"The lads in the squad must have thought what was this guy about? But that was just what I did on the side outside of the football."

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After his playing career ended, O'Neill took a job in the financial services industry, which he said has helped him with his football management.

He added: "I always wanted a safety net, as it were. I thought I wanted [a proper job] until I got one and realised it wasn't all it was cracked up to be."

After winning the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers and becoming the first team across the whole of Ireland to qualify for the group stages of a European competition, the Europa League, there was a lot of hype surrounding O'Neill and where he would take his managerial career.

He admitted there were friends who advised him not to take the Northern Ireland job, but thought he was an outsider for the position after Nigel Worthington's departure with Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie ahead of him.

"People said I could end up with a job in England but that never came to fruition," said O'Neill.

"So I thought it would be a good experience for me to go and get interviewed [by the IFA] and I subsequently got the call 24 hours later to say I was the preferred candidate for the job.

"I knew the task was daunting, I was well aware the team was not in a great place.

"I just felt when the job was offered I had to take it."

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