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'It resonated with me': Michael O'Neill on conversation with Steven Davis that helped convince him to reject Scotland



Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill (right)

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill (right)

�INPHO/Jonathan Porter

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill

Strong relationship: Steven Davis and Michael O’Neill (right)

Michael O'Neill has revealed how captain Steven Davis asked him not to swap Northern Ireland for Scotland following World Cup disappointment three years ago.

With speculation currently surrounding his future as Northern Ireland boss, O'Neill has been reflecting on the last time it looked as though he would leave the role.

That was back in November 2017 after Northern Ireland drew 0-0 in Switzerland in a World Cup play-off and were knocked out 1-0 on aggregate, giving the Scottish FA the opportunity to pounce in a bid to appoint O'Neill as Gordon Strachan's replacement.

Despite holding talks with Hampden chiefs, O'Neill turned down the Scots and opted to sign a lucrative new deal with the Irish FA. He took charge of the Northern Ireland team for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, though during the latter part of the campaign became Stoke City boss.

Speaking on the 'At home with Colin Murray' podcast, O'Neill recalled an emotional period in his life after the World Cup 2018 finals dream ended and his thought process in rejecting the opportunity to manage Scotland.

"It was difficult. My mum passed away about a week after that game. There was a lot of things I was thinking about, like, 'Is this the time?' You never really know and then you have time to come away and reflect," said O'Neill.

"I remember after the game the lads were sitting in the hotel and having a beer and Davo (Steven Davis) said to me, 'We don't mind if you leave to go to a club but you can't leave and go to Scotland' because at the time I was being linked to Scotland. He said, 'That's the only thing that I ask you'.

"It kind of resonated with me. It wasn't why I made the decision but it resonated with me because it showed the closeness you get with players.

"I think it is twofold because probably those players think they owe me a lot because their international careers amounted to something at the end of it and equally I feel a real attachment to them because they delivered after a very difficult period.

"At that point I had a decision to make. The Association were brilliant. They made me an unbelievable offer with flexibility in it and I felt the right thing to do was to stay."

In a fascinating interview with Belfast broadcaster Murray, O'Neill, who inspired Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals, explained that the most challenging aspect of the international job related to training facilities.

Pointing out that at Stoke City for the first time in his managerial career he has two training pitches to work on, O'Neill said: "That was always the biggest challenge with Northern Ireland. If you were trying to split the group we didn't have that. We only had one pitch. We have no national training centre in Northern Ireland. We would beg, borrow and steal.

"Manchester City have been very good to us, letting us use the Etihad complex. Arsenal let us use their training ground when we were preparing before away games.

"We then had a period when we took the players to Dublin at Carton House and would then come north to play the games. These were all the challenges. To make things better we had to do that."

He added: "One of the biggest frustrations that I always had was that every international as the coach it was logistically what you were having to deal with and trying to keep the players on board.

"Jonny Evans was at Manchester United and we had players in the Premier League. I think it is testament to those players that they did stick on board.

"They had played through a lot of bad times as well. The Northern Ireland boys are good because they can kind of look past it.

"They accepted everything is not going to be brilliant but equally they accepted that you were doing everything possible to make it as good as possible for them."

O'Neill admitted that when he was appointed Northern Ireland boss in December 2011 he "never felt ready to do the job" but took it on the basis that he "might never be offered it again".

Then came the process of building belief in a group of players who had suffered constant disappointments with Northern Ireland in the years before.

"They needed to have a motivation and you can only get that motivation by being competitive in the first part of the group. The other thing I had to change was to show the players that they had to have belief they could qualify. We had to create that a little bit in the mindset," stated O'Neill.

"When we came into the Euro 2016 qualifying group we won our first three games and the whole mindset changed. From that moment on it has never changed. There is a good group within the squad now who think, 'Why can't we qualify?' because that's all they have known.

"Going forward, when players come in they will think we have a chance of qualification here."

Belfast Telegraph