Belfast Telegraph

Help us book a place in Euro finals, Cathcart urges O'Neill

 

Booked up: Craig Cathcart wants Michael O’Neill to see the job through with Northern Ireland
Booked up: Craig Cathcart wants Michael O’Neill to see the job through with Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Craig Cathcart says the Northern Ireland squad want Michael O'Neill to take the team to the Euro 2020 finals.

O'Neill was appointed as manager of Stoke City last week but the Irish FA believe he will remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the rest of their qualifying campaign.

That could include a play-off date in March and the 50-year-old also plans to stay in the hotseat until the Euro adventure is over.

But the former Shamrock Rovers chief has a massive job on his hands at the Potters, who are currently fighting for their Championship lives.

"It's between Michael and Stoke what he has decided but as players, we want him here for these games in March and hopefully all the way to the Euro finals if we get there," said Cathcart ahead of tomorrow's clash with the Netherlands at Windsor Park.

O’Neill got off to a flying start at Stoke by masterminding a 4-2 victory over Barnsley at Oakwell last Saturday, but questions will remain whether the Ballymena man can keep doing both jobs.

His focus has immediately switched to the final Group C qualifying games against the Netherlands at Windsor Park tomorrow, followed by Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday.

Watford centre-back Cathcart believes O’Neill will revive Stoke’s fortunes but he hopes the former Dundee United and Hibernian ace sees out the Euro campaign with his country.

“I think he plans to stay on for the rest of the Euro campaign, that’s my understanding and I’m sure Michael will want to see it through, no matter what happens,” said the 30-year-old.

Cathcart, who will earn his 49th cap if he plays against the Dutch tomorrow, is not surprised the man who guided Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals — their first major tournament since 1986 — caught the eye of Stoke’s owners.

“I’m feeling the same about it as everyone else,” he said yesterday at the team’s base in the Culloden Hotel.

“We’re obviously very disappointed he’s going and leaving because he’s been a big part of the success we’ve had the last five or six years.

“On the other hand, he has earned the right to do what he feels is right and when he does part ways, everyone will wish him all the best. I’m sure he will be a successful club manager because he has shown he can get the best out of a group of players.

“It wasn’t a big surprise because he has been linked with clubs and has probably spoken to a few over the last couple of years.

“It was probably in the back of his mind that it was something he wanted to do to challenge himself, so it wasn’t a massive surprise.

“Stoke is a big club and they’re not long out of the Premier League, so it’s a great opportunity to go in there and they’ve got a good team with a good squad of players. If he gets the best out them, I’m sure he’ll turn things around and be successful.”

Cathcart expects the former Brechin boss to hit the ground running at Stoke, as long as the players implement his ideas.

When asked if club management would suit O’Neill better given his attention to detail, he replied: “Potentially. It’s hard to say because he’s been manager here for so long, but if he is as successful at club level as here, it can be only good things for him.

“All I’d say is if the lads at Stoke buy into his ideas and his thoughts, I’m pretty sure they’ll have a lot of success.

“His attention to detail is Michael’s main strength. Every player on the pitch knows his role going into games. We don’t have any doubts going into games. We watch a lot of video.

“The training is geared towards the matches and I think that’s shown in the results we’ve had, we’ve surprised a lot of people over the years with how we’ve gone. He’s a good manager as well. He knows when to speak to people and how to speak to people. He communicates well.

“He knows when to pull a lad to the side to have a little chat with them and stuff like that.

“I think all round he’s a great manager and he’ll be a big miss to us. When Michael first came into the squad I wasn’t starting here, there were good players in my position and it was difficult to get in but I never felt like I didn’t want to be involved and learn more.

“Michael gave me a lot of confidence even before I was in the Premier League. When I was at Blackpool I was in the team and he told me he wanted me to play and I learned a lot from him.”

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