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Michael O'Neill: Northern Ireland supporters can help success continue without me



Michael O’Neill will now focus solely on Stoke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Michael O’Neill will now focus solely on Stoke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Michael O’Neill will now focus solely on Stoke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Michael O'Neill has insisted the Northern Ireland success story can continue despite his departure as manager.

O'Neill has been an inspirational figure, leading the country to the Euro 2016 finals and almost guiding the team to the 2018 World Cup finals.

He leaves with Northern Ireland in the Euro 2020 play-offs and two wins away from another major tournament.

After becoming Stoke City boss in November an agreement was reached whereby he would stay in charge for the Euro play-off semi-final against Bosnia & Herzegovina last month but when that tie was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and plans were revealed to play the game in October after Nations League fixtures, O'Neill decided the dual role would be an impossible task and that he should focus on his club job.

The Irish FA will now start the search for a replacement with Motherwell's Stephen Robinson, St Johnstone's Tommy Wright and Northern Ireland U21 boss Ian Baraclough on the shortlist. O'Neill (50) sees all three as "credible contenders" declaring that the mindset of the players and passionate support of the fans will help the new boss continue the outstanding work he started way back in December 2011 when he was appointed with Northern Ireland at a low ebb.

Asked by the Belfast Telegraph if he feared the success of the national team would be over without him, O'Neill stated: "It shouldn't be and the fans can play a massive part in that.

"My message to the supporters is don't underestimate the role that you have to play because going forward you will be needed more than ever."

O’Neill added: “The fans’ role is significant going forward and I would say to them make sure they give whoever comes into the job the same level of support they gave me.

“If anything can convince a player to continue to play international football it is the backing of the home crowd and the approval of the home crowd and walking out there knowing you have that fantastic support behind you.

“The atmosphere at Windsor Park is incredible. The players genuinely love going there to play. When you play international football, the most special time to play international football is at home.

“When you come home to play and the players get to spend that three, four or five days around the hotel and they are seeing family the game has a real personal significance,” he added.

“It is so important that the atmosphere stays positive because then the players really enjoy the experience of playing. The players now relish playing in Belfast whereas I am sure there were times when that wasn’t the case.

“I found it quite difficult at the start. International football didn’t seem to be at the forefront of players’ minds and the biggest thing we did was to be able to change that,” O’Neill said.

“Seeing how much players valued playing for Northern Ireland is what I take the most satisfaction from. That desire to do well for their country will be a big benefit to the new manager.”

Belfast Telegraph