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I'm only a phone call away to new Northern Ireland boss, says Michael O'Neill

 

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Good shape: Michael O’Neill has transformed the NI
set-up in his reign

Good shape: Michael O’Neill has transformed the NI set-up in his reign

Matt Mackey / PressEye.com

Good shape: Michael O’Neill has transformed the NI set-up in his reign

Departing Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has revealed that he will be happy to give his successor a guiding hand in the early days of the job adding he is just a phone call away.

O'Neill's exit leaves the Irish FA with a mighty hole to fill. On the upside the powers that be at Windsor Park knew it was coming.

When O'Neill became manager of Championship side Stoke in November an agreement was reached for him to lead Northern Ireland in their final two Euro 2020 qualifiers and the play-offs in March.

Once UEFA postponed Northern Ireland's play-off semi-final in Bosnia & Herzegovina due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the tournament itself until 2021 the successful partnership between O'Neill and the IFA was going to end sooner than hoped.

The parting of the ways came yesterday after details emerged that UEFA wanted the Euro play-off semi-final to take place in October following a series of Nations League fixtures that month and in September. O'Neill knew that made his dual role impossible, ending hopes he and the Association had of him inspiring Northern Ireland to another Euro finals, as had been the case in 2016.

When O'Neill rejected Scotland in 2018, he signed a new £750,000 per year deal which was believed to have included a £500,000 bonus for taking the side to the Euros. He may be walking away from that but given the ex-Shamrock Rovers boss is on around £1.5 million per year at Stoke that eases any financial pain.

Nevertheless O'Neill is disappointed his time with Northern Ireland is over.

Appointed in December 2011 results-wise he had a dreadful first qualifying campaign losing to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan but behind the scenes he was building a togetherness, spirit and system in the squad that led to the nation reaching a first major tournament for 30 years.

He was also close to taking Steven Davis and co to the World Cup in 2018 and has left his replacement two victories away from the next Euro finals.

The three chief contenders are Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson, St Johnstone's Tommy Wright and under-21 manager Ian Baraclough, who crucially have all worked with O'Neill in the Northern Ireland coaching set-up. Former Crystal Palace boss Iain Dowie and IFA Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton, who missed out to O'Neill last time, plus Linfield's David Healy and Coleraine's Oran Kearney are viewed as big outsiders while another Ulsterman Grant McCann has suggested he is happy at Hull City.

Asked in a conference call from his home in Edinburgh if he would be open to the new boss picking his brain, O'Neill said: "Yes, of course. I wouldn't have any issue with that at all. Any guidance you'd give to anyone coming into the position, I'd be more than happy to do so.

"From my point of view, I am more than happy to offer any guidance or anything else they need. They just need to pick up the phone."

O'Neill added he would offer "a little bit of guidance" to the IFA "but won't be choosing my successor".

He continued: "The names that have been mentioned are very credible contenders.

"All of the people mentioned have an affiliation to Northern Ireland in some way, having worked within the system or under me.

"A big thing the Irish FA wants is some level of continuity and the good thing is the support staff are excellent.

"The staff we have medically, in sports science, David Currie, the logistics, the kitmen and everything, all of that has improved over the past few years.

"That was something I was focused on so whoever comes in comes into a situation where he has a backroom team where everyone knows what they're doing.

"They know how to deal with an international window, they know how to make sure the team is prepared properly, so I think that'll be a factor in making sure whoever gets the job, that continuity is there."

On his decision to step aside, O'Neill pointed out: "I'd have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland versus Bosnia and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that is no longer possible.

"It was important to leave the Association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had."

O'Neill thanked his players past and present for delivering "so many unforgettable highs and great experiences" plus IFA officials including current and former presidents David Martin and Jim Shaw. He also described the support of the fans as "incredibly humbling".

On O'Neill, IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: "His time as manager, as well as chief football officer at the IFA, will be remembered as some of the headiest for our fans and most successful for our players.

"We will work to ensure the next manager is in place for the games in September."

Belfast Telegraph