Belfast Telegraph

Let's make win over Dutch our parting gift to Michael: McGinn

Niall McGinn
Niall McGinn

By Graham Luney

Niall McGinn is still hoping Michael O'Neill can lead Northern Ireland to the Euro 2020 finals and he's hungry to reward the boss with a "big scalp" before he leaves the role.

O'Neill was appointed as manager of Stoke City last week but the Irish FA stated he will remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the rest of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

That appears unlikely, as many within the game expect O'Neill to bow out after the final two Group C clashes at home to the Netherlands on Saturday and against Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday.

This weekend's clash could be O'Neill's final home match in charge before he gives 100% commitment to his three-and-a-half-year contract with Stoke worth £5.25m and it's not certain he will be involved in Northern Ireland's potential play-off games in March.

Aberdeen winger McGinn, however, hopes the 50-year-old can finish what he started and take Northern Ireland to the finals.

If that fails to materialise, McGinn accepts we could be in the final days of the O'Neill era and he would love to give the new Potters chief a special send-off.

"If we can get to the Euros, Michael would love to be a part of that and it would be another great addition to his CV," said McGinn, who netted his third goal of the season at the weekend.

"The players have come this far with him and it might be a bit strange for someone else to come in before the Euros, if we make the finals.

"If we have a massive chance of qualifying then Michael will hopefully be there to take us into the finals. A big scalp has also been a big thing missing from Michael's era as despite the big wins and qualification for the Euros, we haven't beaten one of the bigger nations. Hopefully, we can put that right against Netherlands or Germany."

McGinn added: “Germany five minutes into the second half scored a great goal against us and that cost us a big scalp. Jonny (Evans), Steven (Davis) and Kyle (Lafferty) can recall the win over Spain and then there was the victory over England.

“We can look forward to Saturday and it could be a bittersweet moment for Michael with the possibility of it being his last home game. We will concentrate on that and the atmosphere will be incredible so hopefully we can get the win for the fans and him.

“I think nowadays in international football, most teams are beatable and you just need a little luck to achieve that. We showed for 80 minutes in Holland we can defend really well and nullify their threats but against the top opposition you have to keep your concentration for the 90-plus minutes.”

O’Neill made a stunning start to his Stoke reign, masterminding a 4-2 win over fellow Championship strugglers Barnsley.

Players and fans will have concerns moving forward when O’Neill finally leaves the role and McGinn was quick to hail his boss’ man management skills.

“His man management skills are second to none,” he added. “Players, whether they are playing or not, are coming into a good environment and they are training and playing with a smile on their face.

“Sometimes you won’t play but you have to learn from the experience of working with a great manager. You even like training with the Premier League players like Jonny Evans because you are always learning and picking up things that can help you develop at club level.

“The work Michael does behind the scenes regarding the opposition is very effective and he is going to games in England and Scotland and keeping a close eye on his players. That’s one of the reasons why players have done so well at international level.

“Before the Bosnia game in the Nations League I had a chat with Michael and he said, ‘You’ve achieved a lot in your international career, playing and scoring at the Euros’. I had around 50 caps at the time and he just wanted me to go out and express myself against Bosnia. I had a very good game and it was a massive thing for him to say to me.

“I look back to Russia six years ago when he named the squad and I wasn’t in it. I was doing well with Aberdeen and was called into a training camp before a Portugal game. I trained well, Michael threw me in and I was fortunate to score a goal and play well.

“To get an opportunity to play and then score on Saturday would be a very special feeling.”

McGinn isn’t surprised Stoke made the move for O’Neill and he believes the Ballymena man’s successor will walk into a confident and exciting environment.

“Michael is going and he’s been linked with a lot of jobs over the last number of years and that has shown how well he has done as a manager,” he added. “Whoever steps in next is walking into a great environment with a great bunch of players.

“It’s great what he has done for Northern Ireland and what has been achieved as a collective unit.

“It’s put the country back on the map and we have been playing at major tournaments again.

“We wish Michael all the best and he has got off to a brilliant start at Stoke.

“A number of Northern Irish managers have been linked with the job and it will be a great opportunity for them to work with a great group of players and enhance their CV. The candidates named would love to manage Northern Ireland and I mightn’t have said that about them seven years ago.

“With the way Northern Ireland are now, it’s a great job for a top manager.”

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