Belfast Telegraph

Pat Jennings: Northern Ireland fans expect more major success

High standards: Pat Jennings
High standards: Pat Jennings

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland legend Pat Jennings believes Michael O'Neill will have to live with high expectations as he plots more success with his country.

O'Neill has agreed a new contract to remain as Northern Ireland boss until 2024 after turning down an approach from the Scottish FA and he's now relishing the prospect of making it to the Euro 2020 finals.

Northern Ireland reached the knockout stages of Euro 2016 but a controversial penalty in a play-off against Switzerland saw their hopes of going to the World Cup Finals in Russia go up in smoke.

Jennings feels O'Neill's toughest challenge will be sustaining that success.

"After just missing out on back to back major tournaments, fans are going to expect the team to challenge again but we should never get carried away as we are still a small nation punching above our weight," he said.

Northern Ireland’s most capped player on 119 appearances added: “The fans have been brilliant in driving the team on and I’m delighted for them and the players that Michael is staying.”

Former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers boss O’Neill will sign a four-year extension to his existing deal. He confirmed his decision at the Uefa Nations League draw earlier this week.

O’Neill’s men will host Bosnia and Herzegovina in their opener on Saturday, September 8 and will then have

Northern Ireland will then have two away fixtures in League B Group 3 against Austria on Friday, October 12 and the Bosnians on Monday, October 15.

Their final match is at home to Austria on Sunday, November 18.

“Michael would gave given the offer from Scotland a lot of thought and I’m just pleased he is still our manager,” added Jennings. “I wasn’t surprised Scotland showed an interest in him after all the success we have enjoyed. No-one knows the players, their strengths and weaknesses, better than Michael.

“I’m surprised a Premier League or even Championship club hasn’t come in for Michael with a genuine offer but I’m sure the Northern Ireland fans aren’t complaining.

“The discussion around Michael’s future went on for months and was obviously a big decision for him. It must be a great feeling to know you are wanted and financially it has worked out well for him. The fact Scotland wanted him so badly reflects strongly the great work he has done, he’s done a brilliant job.

“There’s little security now for club managers compared to years ago when bosses were given three and four year contracts and allowed to see it out. They were given time to invest in a youth policy but now there’s a roundabout with the same names taking on different jobs.”

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