Belfast Telegraph

IFA will seek O’Neill’s advice on his Northern Ireland successor

Stoke City boss Michael O'Neill
Stoke City boss Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Stoke City’s new boss Michael O’Neill will be given a significant say in who the next Northern Ireland manager will be.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that the Irish FA will take advice from the outgoing O’Neill on the best candidates to succeed him with the aim to make the transition as smooth as possible.

O’Neill is determined that the Northern Ireland success story does not end when he departs and is keen that the IFA appoint a manager who will be interested in the continued development of youth structures and football in the country as a whole as well as taking charge of the senior team and producing positive results with them.

The Irish FA see things the same way. President David Martin stated: “Michael is going to be a very hard act to follow. It has to be someone who fits seamlessly into all that he has done for Northern Ireland football.”

With that in mind, the two frontrunners appear to be Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson and Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Ian Baraclough.

Robinson has shone in the Scottish Premiership, developed numerous young players and is a popular and well respected figure with the Northern Ireland squad having worked under O’Neill during the exhilarating Euro 2016 campaign.

Baraclough has excelled in his current role and has also been well received when he has taken training sessions with the senior squad on a few occasions.

O’Neill beat off strong competition from ex-international team-mates Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton to land the post in 2011 so dark horses should not be discounted. O’Neill is an admirer of the work done by David Healy at Linfield and Oran Kearney at Coleraine plus during his short spell at St Mirren. He has also spoken in the past of his respect for St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright and Hull City’s Grant McCann.

The IFA would prefer to stick with homegrown talent rather than an outsider, and while it will be up to the Irish FA board, led by Martin and chief executive Patrick Nelson, to rubber-stamp an appointment, O'Neill's recommendation will carry a great deal of weight.

There have been suggestions that a successor could shadow O'Neill, who won his first match in charge of Championship strugglers Stoke City 4-2 at Barnsley on Saturday and is now in Northern Ireland preparing the national team for this weekend's crucial home Euro 2020 qualifier against Holland.

Last week, the 50-year-old told Stoke he would not take their vacant manager's job unless he could oversee Northern Ireland's final group games with the Dutch at Windsor Park on Saturday night and next Tuesday in Germany.

While Stoke agreeing to that arrangement wasn't a surprise due to the timing, shock has been expressed in football circles since the IFA announced they had agreed with the club that O'Neill would remain in charge of Northern Ireland for potential play-off matches in March.

IFA officials would also love to see O'Neill take the team to the Euro 2020 finals if they make it all the way.

There is a growing sense in the game, however, that O'Neill may not be boss of his country for the play-offs let alone the finals given the demands of his job at Stoke, who signed him up on a three-and-a-half-year contract worth £5.25m. Things can move and change quickly in football.

At the weekend, when asked about taking the team for March's play-offs, O'Neill was coy, but in relation to the question he did say: "We will look at that scenario when it comes around and the Association has a lot of time.

"Common sense will prevail and we'll get the right resolution for everyone."

He will speak to the Northern Ireland players about the situation and no doubt there will be discussions with the powers that be ahead of what could be his last match in charge of his country at Windsor Park.

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