Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Leading Northern Ireland to another tournament is most exciting challenge for me, says Michael O'Neill

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland's national football team is unrecognisible from the side Michael O'Neill inherited in 2012.

Then as low as 96th in world football, the prospect of the Green and White Army actually earning a spot at a major championship was an unrealistic pipe-dream.

Fast forward six years and Euro 2016 is a thrilling memory, NI are cemented in the world's top 30 and the World Cup finals were snatched from under their noses.

Who knows what dreams await between now and 2024?

Barring an appealing job offer from a leading club, Michael O'Neill will lead Northern Ireland through another two European Championship campaigns and the World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 tournament.

"There's no greater honour than managing your home country." 💚⚪️ #GAWA READ MORE:...

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Friday, February 9, 2018

And on signing his new deal, the man himself looks fresh and ready to pick up the baton once more.

"It's been very enjoyable," O'Neill reflected at a Windsor Park press conference. "At times it's been very challenging, which is good. There were times when I wondered were we possibly going to be able to improve this or to build a team that could do what we have done in the last two campaigns.

"That's why there's more satisfaction in the job. If you take over something that's hugely successful, it's not the same as when you take something when it was at a very low point and had to persevere with it to turn it into something successful. The challenge now is to maintain that and keep going forward.

"No other challenge attracted me as much as taking Northern Ireland back to a major tournament."

O'Neill could easily have jumped ship after the World Cup play-off heartache but rejected an approach from Scotland.

"I had the option to go to clubs, I had the opportunity to go and work as national team coach of another association but there is no greater honour than managing your own country," he said.

"Our ranking is 25th in the world, we've been as high as 20th. We want to try and maintain that as long as possible.

"There's no greater satisfaction in football than having what we've had as manager of your own country."

Northern Ireland's next fixture is at home to South Korea on March 24.

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