Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

The GAWA played a big role in my decision to remain as Northern Ireland boss: Michael O'Neill

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill says the love of the Green and White Army helped convince him that his future lay with his home country.

The boss was at the Waterfront on Monday evening to collect not only the Manager / Coach of the year accolade but also the Team of the Year prize on behalf of his Northern Ireland side.

O'Neill's men, of course, came within a whisker of qualifying for this summer's World Cup finals, losing out in that infamous play-off against Switzerland.

But the four consecutive group victories to start 2017 gave the fans plenty to shout about and were enough to secure an awards double at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

"Tonight brings home how much of a role sport plays in Northern Ireland and what we've achieved, so I always enjoy it," reflected O'Neill.

After turning down a job offer from the Scottish FA, O'Neill is expected to put pen to paper on a new six year deal with Northern Ireland.

And now that his future's decided, he's ready to get back into action.

"I've got my appetite back and I look forward to the games coming round," he said.

"To have such a good national team is a big thing for everyone in Northern Ireland. We've had a great four years and we want to continue.

"I see the response of the Northern Ireland public and it was a big factor in me staying on in the job."

O'Neill has also been in talks with senior players in the squad like Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt and is hoping to convince the veterans to remain with NI. He also dropped a hint that the squad may stay together.

"There used to be a time we couldn't get the players to turn up, now we can't get them to retire," he smiled. "There's a sense that they can go again and there are one or two young players coming through as well. We're trying to keep the team together and grow the team."

O'Neill beat competition from Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte, Linfield manager David Healy and Down Royal Racecourse chief Mike Todd to get his hands on the Manager / Coach of the Year award.

"I didn't expect to win this against the likes of Mickey, David and Mike," he said. "I'm very humbled."

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