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It would be 'huge' if Michael O'Neill rejects Scotland, says Northern Ireland star

By Graham Luney

Aaron Hughes has called on Michael O'Neill to reject Scotland's advances and continue his miracle work with Northern Ireland.

O'Neill will hold talks with the Scottish FA this week after a compensation package of around £500,000 was finally agreed with the Irish FA.

Hearts defender and former NI captain Hughes hopes the man who guided his country to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 will follow the example of his friend and Republic managerial counterpart Martin O'Neill who has said 'no' to Stoke City.

"It would be huge for us if we can keep hold of him with what he's done over the last few years," said Hughes.

"Everyone looks at the senior team as the focal point but behind the scenes he's helped build up the whole association.

"The Under-21s are doing well. His input through the years is slowly taking shape, not just for us but the whole association. It would be fantastic if he stayed."

The 65-year-old former Northern Ireland captain is now expected to sign a new deal with the Irish Football Association.

It was Michael O’Neill’s achievement in guiding his country to a first major tournament in 30 years that convinced the SFA that he was the man to revive Scotland’s fortunes following Gordon Strachan’s departure in October.

The 48-year-old will be offered a financially lucrative package, making him the highest paid manager in Scotland’s history.

A four-year deal, expected to be worth more than £500,000 a year, will be tempting to the former Shamrock Rov­ers boss but Irish FA chiefs remain hopeful O’Neill will stay put and agree a bumper six-year contract worth up to £700,000 per year.

O’Neill wants his future sorted by the end of January and possibly as early as this week.

The draw for Uefa’s new Nations League tournament takes place on January 24.

After missing out on this summer’s World Cup after a play-off defeat to Switzerland, it was feared O’Neill was ready to embrace a new challenge but the Irish FA, through their contract offer, have displayed a real determination to hold onto their manager. The former Brechin City boss has expressed concerns at the lack of talented young players progressing through the ranks, while senior players such as Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Aaron Hughes and Jamie Ward may be considering stepping down from the international stage.

But the Irish FA has offered him reassurances regarding investment in scouting programmes and youth football.

If he does accept the Scotland job, he will bring Hearts No.2 Austin MacPhee with him.

Gary McAllister, Chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, said: “The IFA have played a strong hand in trying to encourage Michael to stay. The offer is there and we all hope that he signs up to extend his contract.”

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