Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill drops three big hints that he won't leave Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has given three strong hints that he is set say no to Scotland and stay on as Northern Ireland manager.

With the 48-year-old due to hold talks with Scottish FA chiefs, there is a quiet confidence within the Irish FA that the man who ended Northern Ireland's 30-year wait for a major tournament will not be leaving his post.

O'Neill is free to speak to the Scots after they agreed a £500,000 compensation package with the IFA if he accepts their job offer.

But Windsor Park chiefs, who have offered him a six-year deal worth more than £600,000-a-year including bonus payments, believe it will be business as usual.

Three key developments have indicated O'Neill's desire to stay in his current role - arrangements have been made with the IFA for him to attend the Uefa Nations League draw in Lausanne, Switzerland on Wednesday and a friendly at home to South Korea on Saturday, March 24 has been rubber stamped by the manager, as well as games against Panama on May 29 and Costa Rica on June 3.

The former Shamrock Rovers chief has been the SFA’s preferred candidate since Gordon Strachan’s departure in October but O’Neill has been encouraged by positive talks with his employers, centring on his contract and the future development of the game in Northern Ireland.

Attention will soon switch to the Uefa Nations League draw and Northern Ireland, who are in Pot 3 in League B, have a one in four chance of being pitted against the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic, managed by former Northern Ireland captain Martin O’Neill, who has agreed terms on a new deal, are in Pot 2 with Sweden, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Possible Pot 1 opponents are Austria, Wales, Russia and Slovakia.

O’Neill hopes to bring a swift end to speculation regarding his managerial future and get on with the business of planning for the future, including talks with players such as Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt who may be considering ending their international careers.

The SFA can offer O’Neill a four-year deal worth more than £500,000-a-year plus bonuses but it appears they have been outflanked by the IFA’s terms.

In another sign the 31-times-capped former Northern Ireland midfielder is not making moving plans, O’Neill gave his blessing to the South Korea friendly at Windsor Park on Saturday, March 24 (kick-off 2pm).

It will be Northern Ireland’s first fixture since their heartbreaking World Cup play-off defeat to Switzerland when a controversial penalty killed their qualification dream, but South Korea will be in Russia.

“South Korea have a large squad so I have no doubt their players will be out to impress their manager with the World Cup looming,” O’Neill said.

“The game will provide our players with an opportunity to play a country we have not faced before and see how they handle opposition from outside Europe.”

Shin Tae-yong’s side progressed through three rounds of qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation to reach their ninth consecutive World Cup.

The Reds won the E-1, the football championship of East Asia, which was held in Japan last month. Currently 60th in the Fifa World Rankings, they have been drawn in Group F in Russia against world champions Germany, Sweden and Mexico this June.

Tottenham striker Son Heung-min, who has scored 20 goals in 61 appearances for his country, is the key man in their ranks.

Due to the international fixture being played on a Saturday, the Danske Bank Premiership programme that weekend will move to Friday, March 23.

Those games are Ballinamallard United v Linfield, Cliftonville v Ards, Coleraine v Carrick Rangers, Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon, Glentoran v Ballymena United and Warrenpoint Town v Crusaders.

All fixtures in the Bluefin Sport Championship and Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League will be rescheduled with new dates to be confirmed.

Belfast Telegraph

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