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Michael O'Neill to discuss Northern Ireland future with Irish FA and UEFA's emergency meeting

 

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Michael O’Neill. Photo: PA

Michael O’Neill. Photo: PA

PA

Michael O’Neill. Photo: PA

The Irish Football Association are planning to hold talks with Michael O'Neill after today's emergency Uefa meeting which could signal the end of his highly successful spell as Northern Ireland manager.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus around the globe, Uefa will announce that they are postponing the Euro 2020 play-offs later this month, including Northern Ireland's semi-final in Bosnia & Herzegovina scheduled for March 26.

European football's governing body are also set to inform their 55 member associations in a special video conference that the finals of the tournament will not take place in the summer.

Such a scenario is likely to have a major impact for the Irish FA and O'Neill who, despite being appointed Stoke boss in November, agreed with his club to manage the Northern Ireland team in the March play-offs.

Following that agreement, senior Northern Ireland players such as captain Steven Davis stated they wanted O'Neill to guide the nation in June if qualification for the finals was secured.

The delay could change everything, with O'Neill admitting at the weekend that his dual role "wouldn't be doable if you were doing it September, October and November".

He added: "That wouldn't be an option."

It may be a long shot, but if Uefa were to delay all international football for a year - allowing domestic and European club competitions to catch up on games missed due to Covid-19 - and have the Euro 2020 play-offs in March 2021, the IFA and O'Neill would have a major decision to make.

Even then, though, Stoke may not be so quick to go along with a similar scenario to the one in place now. O'Neill too may feel a clean break is in order, with him being able to look back on a job well done having guided Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals and turned them into a force to be reckoned with on the international scene having been appointed in December 2011.

The IFA have been keeping O'Neill across all developments and are expected to speak to him this week once the outcome of the Uefa conference is known.

Represented at the video conference by chief executive Patrick Nelson, the IFA will seek to clarify what is happening with the game against Bosnia.

The IFA will also be keen to hear if any decision has been made about the 2020 European Under-19 Championship finals which are scheduled to be hosted in Northern Ireland.

The eight-team Uefa tournament is down to be played between July 19 and August 1 with matches in Belfast, Ballymena, Lurgan and Portadown.

Already next month's draw for the Under-19 competition, supposed to take place in the Titanic building, has been cancelled and there is a fear that the finals will go the same way.

The IFA are mindful of ramifications, financial and otherwise, that postponements could have in the future. They intend to speak to all their partners in the coming weeks about the best way to move forward.

The outcome from today's Uefa conference will be crucial.

The meeting is due to begin at midday and will be viewed with interest across the continent and beyond, not least by Fifa's big guns.

It is not so much a High Noon showdown, more an opportunity for a High Noon show of strength where European football's big hitters can come together as one.

As well as all 55 Uefa members, the boards of the European Club Association and the European Leagues, and a representative of world players' union FifPro have been invited.

Belfast Telegraph