Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Irish FA had faith O'Neill would stay after Scottish FA's lack of respect

By Paul Ferguson

Relief emanated from Windsor Park yesterday, but not surprise. Irish FA chiefs have always been confident manager Michael O'Neill would reject the advances of the Scottish FA.

O'Neill's deliberations, following last Thursday's meeting with SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and president Alan McRae, may have lasted longer than they would have liked but they had faith in their man to the extent that during the last two months they hadn't even looked at alternative options for a new boss.

O'Neill was their man and they were determined to keep him.

They acted quickly and decisively in Basel after Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off heartache where chief executive Patrick Nelson and chairman Gerry Mallon offered O'Neill the biggest and most lucrative contract in Irish FA history - £4million over six years.

It was a statement of intent and the Scots, despite making O'Neill their No.1 target after Gordon Strachan was relieved of his duties, withered in the battle.

Regan suddenly started to dither in his approach for O'Neill, with his SFA board not readily agreeing to pay the £500,000 compensation to the IFA should they appoint the Ballymena man. A six-week delay showed a lack of respect and that was certainly not lost on O'Neill.

Regan then contacting his counterpart Nelson in Belfast in the early weeks of December and asking for the compensation to be waived or at the very least reduced was an act of desperation, despite their cries of doing their due diligence.

Did the SFA even have the money to afford O'Neill?

But O'Neill's rejection is by no means just down to money.

Of course, it was surprising the Scots couldn't match the IFA deal, offering around £600,000-a-year, but they lost out on the emotional pull Northern Ireland has for O'Neill and the 'we' factor. He was just going to be a hired gun.

Of course the Scots job held appeal for O'Neill.

He lives in Edinburgh, has an in-depth knowledge of the Scottish game and its players, is the manager of a now ageing Northern Ireland squad and Scotland have a bigger pool of players. But Northern Ireland is his country and the mission is not complete despite Euro 2016 success and a near miss with the World Cup.

He would have weighed up who he would have a better chance of taking to Euro 2020. Northern Ireland players believe there is one more campaign in the squad and O'Neill's decision proves he feels the same.

Not a surprise.

Belfast Telegraph

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