Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill vs O'Neill: Northern Ireland boss Michael hopes for showdown with Republic

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has revealed he fancies a crack at Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland in the 2016 European Championship qualifiers.

With Martin taking over as Republic boss and Michael given an extension to his Irish FA contract, the O'Neills could end up going toe-to-toe if the draw for the Euro 2016 group stages in February pairs North with South.

“It would certainly be interesting,” said Michael (right).

“I was fortunate to play five times against the Republic of Ireland and I always enjoyed playing in those games.

“That type of draw always has an extra edge to it. We'll see what the draw brings come February — and if that happens it would add a bit of spice.”

Northern Ireland have not met the Republic of Ireland in a competitive fixture since 1995 and with the latter about to be managed by the former's celebrated 1982 World Cup skipper, games between the two in Belfast and Dublin would certainly be compelling contests.

While ex-Celtic boss O'Neill and his new assistant Roy Keane, on duty as Champions League pundits for ITV last night, will sign on the dotted line for the Football Association of Ireland at the weekend, yesterday the other O'Neill committed to Northern Ireland for another two years.

It is clear the IFA never thought about looking elsewhere for a manager despite Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier woes, which included embarrassing defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

IFA president Jim Shaw said: "I am delighted that Michael has agreed a two-year extension to his contract.

"I have no doubt that he will be able to build on the good work he has already done and will take us forward in the Euro 2016 campaign.

"Michael is a true professional who has passion and pride – something which he showed as a player for his country and now as a manager and I believe he is the right man for the job of Northern Ireland manager."

O'Neill added: "I'm pleased to get it done. I met with the IFA Board last Wednesday night and the contract was agreed within 24 to 48 hours. It was a simple process.

"Like any manager I wish the results had been better in the previous campaign but I think the Board recognise the amount of work going into the team, the transition in the team and also the level of work going on in the underage categories. To get another two years and to build on what we have achieved so far I'm delighted."

There have been two outstanding results under O'Neill – the home win over Fabio Capello's Russia and a draw in Portugal, but mostly his reign has been hugely frustrating.

The former Shamrock Rovers manager is of course well aware that that must change in the next two years if he is to be viewed as a success.

A decent peformance in the friendly international away to Turkey on Friday week would be a start.


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