Belfast Telegraph

The advice Martin O'Neill gave Michael as he took Northern Ireland job

By Steven Beacom

Just before Michael O'Neill agreed to become the Northern Ireland manager at the end of 2011, he sought advice from Martin O'Neill.

For the younger O'Neill, words of wisdom from his more experienced namesake were appreciated.

Two years on maybe it will be Martin making the phone call as he prepares to enter international management for the first time with the Republic of Ireland.

After all, Michael's been there and done it, having recently finished a difficult and often disconcerting World Cup qualifying campaign.

So, if the ex-Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland boss gets in touch to ask the former Shamrock Rovers manager for his advice, what will the answer be?

"Probably not watching RTE would be a good idea," said 44-year-old O'Neill, with a wicked smile, referring to the controversial punditry of Eamon Dunphy and co.

On a more serious note, the Northern Ireland boss believes his nation's 1982 World Cup skipper will be a hit for the Republic.

O'Neill junior said: "It's a great opportunity for Martin. He is more than capable of doing a good job.

"He has a good squad of players there and I wish him well."

Some of Martin's new squad were, of course, born and bred on this side of the border.

Given his history and the controversy relating to the Republic selecting players who come through the IFA ranks, could the two bosses meet to come to an agreement benefiting Northern Ireland?

"Possibly we could look at that situation but I'm fully aware that Martin will do what's best for him and what's best for the Republic of Ireland," said Michael.

"The rules allow them to do that so that's their decision as an Association.

"Going down that route of talking to them I'm not sure we would get anywhere.

"I'm not convinced though that Martin will be banging down doors in Belfast and Derry to get players!

"The focus for us is the system we put in place.

"There is a genuine desire to get as many players from here over to the professional game and hopefully they will repay that by playing for Northern Ireland."

As for Martin's advice a couple of years ago, Michael revealed: "He outlined the differences between club management and international management and asked how I would deal with the periods in between games which can frustrate a lot of international managers.

"He felt at the stage I was at in my career it was a great opportunity and he certainly didn't advise me against taking the job.

"It was nice to talk to an experienced manager and to have that little bit of guidance."

While the 61-year-old Republic boss will now enjoy a honeymoon period, for the Northern Ireland supremo, having won once in 14 games and suffered humiliating defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, that is well and truly over with the pressure on for the Euro 2016 campaign.

"You doubt yourself all the time and look and analyse and re-analyse about what you could have done differently but if I had walked away at the end of the World Cup campaign, I wouldn't have had too many regrets. I wouldn't have done things in too different a fashion," said O'Neill.

"I don't want to go through another campaign with just one win though. We have to aspire to finish higher than fifth which we did in our group.

"The frustrating thing was that it was within our capabilities to do that.

"There were a lot of performances that gave me belief and heart and sometimes you have to try and ignore the result which is never easy, but going forward I hope the experiences of the last campaign will stand us in good stead.

"I genuinely believe if we can keep the squad fit and available we'll have a good Euro campaign.

"The crucial factor will be to get momentum and points on board as early as possible."

With one O'Neill becoming the Republic boss and the other staying as Northern Ireland manager, it's easy to forget that both have friendly matches next Friday... the former making his bow at home to Latvia and the latter away in Turkey.

O'Neill named his squad for the Turkey trip yesterday. It included Aaron Hughes, despite fears he may announce his international retirement for a second time.

Craig Cathcart, Corry Evans and Alex Bruce are injured so miss out as does Kyle Lafferty because his wife is due to give birth next week.

New York Red Bulls player Jonny Steele is also omitted as he is involved in Major League Soccer Play-offs but O'Neill insisted the Larne born midfielder will be given a chance in the near future.

Three key questions for Michael O'Neill

Steven Beacom: Congratulations on the new two year contract Michael. After Northern Ireland finished a disappointing fifth in the World Cup qualifying group there will, however, be some supporters unhappy that you have been given an extension by the Irish FA. What's your message to them?

Michael O'Neill: Supporters will always have their opinion and I understand their disappointment at some of the results. Hopefully supporters will see that over the campaign we were more than competitive, albeit that we came out with some disappointing results....results that were unavoidable and slightly undeserved. They have to understand where the team is at this point in time and, let's be honest, this team wasn't winning on a regular basis before I took over. That hasn't changed and we have to address that. I want people to continue to back the team. The supporters have been fantastic home and away and both the players and myself are aware we need to repay that with results.

SB: Given a record of one win in 14 games in your first two years, are you a little fortunate to be handed a new deal?

MON: Not particularly, no. I was more than happy to continue in the role. Had the IFA decided to look in a different direction I'd have accepted that and understood it. At the end of the day I knew it was going to be a difficult job and that has proved to be the case. I don't think I'm fortunate though. I've worked extremely hard for the last 18 to 20 months and that will continue for the next two years.

SB: What have you learned so far as Northern Ireland manager that can help you and the team going forward?

MON: If you look at the whole campaign we were together for 47 days, which is about a month and a half. That's not a long time but I have still learned a lot about the players. You have to manage the players in a different fashion to what you would do at club level. You have to know what they are capable of and what they are not capable of. I saw a real buy-in from the players in terms of what we were trying to do, which was pleasing. They were as frustrated as I was with the results. It's a case of trying to get belief into the squad. The players of course have a responsibility to generate that belief for themselves and the supporters. I certainly will do everything I can to build confidence and bring a winning mentality into the squad.

Northern Ireland squad to face Turkey on November 15:

Roy Carroll (Olympiakos)

Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)

Aaron Hughes (Fulham)

Lee Hodson (MK Dons)

Jonny Evans (Manchester United)

Gareth McAuley (West Brom)

Daniel Lafferty (Burnley)

Rory McArdle (Bradford)

Chris Baird (Reading)

Steven Davis (Southampton)

Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield)

Shane Ferguson (Birmingham)

Chris Brunt (West Brom)

Michael O'Connor (Rotherham)

Sammy Clingan (Kilmarnock)

Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)

Billy McKay (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)

Martin Paterson (Huddersfield)

Jamie Ward (Derby)

Will Grigg (Brentford)

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