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Second postponement a fresh blow to hopes Michael O'Neill will lead Northern Ireland into Euro 2020 play-offs


Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill's reign as Northern Ireland manager looks increasingly likely to be at an end with no new date set after the side's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovinia was postponed for a second time.

UEFA announced on Wednesday that all fixtures scheduled for June were delayed until further notice, including the play-off fixtures that had initially been pushed back from March.

The decision casts even further doubt on O'Neill's future, with the boss considered unlikely to continue his Northern Ireland role alongside his Stoke City employment.

The successful manager had been set to lead Northern Ireland through the play-offs, including a potential final at home to either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia, although was set for talks with the Irish FA after the games were pencilled in for the summer.

With the Euro 2020 finals pushed back until the summer of 2021, the play-offs could be rescheduled for as late as March next year.

Earlier options include the international window in September, although that would tamper with the UEFA Nations League schedule and would also depend on the state of domestic football.

With the uncertainty surrounding the end of the 19/20 season, March 2021 appears the least intrusive option for the play-offs.

Whenever they are slotted in, it presents new difficulties for O'Neill, who last month admitted that combining his club and country commitments wouldn't work during the busier period of the campaign, as would now be the requirement.

"November to March is the quietest part of an international manager's calendar and that has coincided with the period I've been in charge at Stoke. It wouldn't be doable if you were doing it in September, October and November. That wouldn't be an option," he said.

Should his eight-year stint as boss be finished, he'll be happy to go out quietly.

"I'm not a manager that wants a fanfare or a lot of honours," he said. "What I can look back on is eight years of a lot of hard work.

"We had a very difficult time at the start to try and turn things around. It was a slow-burner, it was never going to happen overnight, but we've had three campaigns where we've qualified and we're in our second play-off, so there are a lot of positives."

The leading names expected to be in the frame to succeed O'Neill are Under 21 boss Ian Baraclough, Motherwell chief Stephen Robinson, former Ipswich manager Jim Magilton and St Johnstone's Tommy Wright.

Also postponed indefinitely are Northern Ireland's upcoming UEFA Women's Championship qualifiers and the UEFA European Under-19 Championship tournament, which is due to be hosted by the Irish FA. It had been scheduled to take place during July and August.

UEFA announced the news following a meeting with its 55 member associations to discuss strategy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Belfast Telegraph