Belfast Telegraph

I want Michael O'Neill to stay at Northern Ireland but interest is no shock, says Pat Jennings

 

Big fan: Michael O’Neill has the support of Pat Jennings, who isn’t surprised his Northern Ireland success is turning heads
Big fan: Michael O’Neill has the support of Pat Jennings, who isn’t surprised his Northern Ireland success is turning heads
Gerry Armstrong

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings hopes Michael O'Neill stays on as Northern Ireland boss but understands why he could become a man in demand over the summer.

O'Neill admitted earlier this week that he was 'flattered' to be linked with the vacant manager's job at Championship side West Bromwich Albion, stating that a move into club football at that level would be 'attractive' and 'appealing'.

The former Shamrock Rovers supremo added that he would find it 'difficult' to walk away from Northern Ireland, where he has enjoyed so much success leading the nation to the Euro 2016 finals, but the 49-year-old's comments on club management did little to ease growing fears at the Irish FA that he is considering his future at international level.

O'Neill, who last year turned down Scotland, has been in Manchester this week preparing players for next month's crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers in Estonia and Belarus. He will hold another training camp next week prior to naming his squad for the latest group games.

Northern Ireland's record appearance holder Jennings hopes O'Neill, contracted with the IFA until 2024, remains at the helm long after the June double-header.

"Michael has done a fantastic job as manager and deserves great credit for that," said Jennings yesterday at the unveiling of George Best's statute just outside Windsor Park.

"I hope he stays with Northern Ireland and continues to be a success and leads the team to more major tournaments, but only Michael knows what he wants to do.

"If you are a successful manager you are always going to have people looking at you and decisions to make.

"I know he spoke to Scotland last year and decided to stick with Northern Ireland. Being in demand is good, but with club football today, in some jobs you can only last six months. For me, management has become a giant roundabout. You may be pushed off and then you try and get on again."

Another Northern Ireland legend, Gerry Armstrong, says his former club West Brom would be fortunate to land a manager like O'Neill.

"West Brom is one of my old clubs and they would be very lucky to get Michael," said Armstrong.

"There is no surprise that Michael is being linked to other jobs because he has constantly delivered for Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, at the Manchester training camp, O'Neill remarked that Oxford United midfielder Mark Sykes had impressed after joining up with senior squad members for the first time having previously shone at Under-21 level.

Speaking about the ex-Glenavon ace, O'Neill said: "Mark has had a good start at Oxford and played well for them in games.

"You can see it (in camp), he is a very natural footballer and it's nice to see a young player like that who has come out of the Irish League doing well. He has a bright future ahead of him."

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