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We must understand Stoke are now the priority, and rightly so, for Michael O'Neill

Steven Beacom



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Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Great times: Michael O’Neill hails Euro 2016 win over Ukraine

Great times: Michael O’Neill hails Euro 2016 win over Ukraine

Getty Images

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill was appointed manager of Northern Ireland on December 28, 2011. What has been a spectacular and successful reign is coming to an end.

The way the world is right now, it seems wrong to predict anything but it is unlikely and becoming more impossible by the day that O'Neill will take charge of his country again.

Speaking to the 50-year-old at the weekend, he was in relaxed mood. He talked football but not his future with Northern Ireland as nothing has been resolved. More importantly, he was relieved and pleased that his family are safe and well. In every home, that's what matters.

Michael has been doing odd jobs around his house in Edinburgh, a source of amusement for his wife Bronagh and their daughters Erin and Olivia.

He is enjoying being with his family, a rarity since becoming manager of Stoke City in November, but at the same time he is missing the opportunity to improve his players in training and the matches that come thick and fast in the Championship.

For almost 10 years what drove him on was success with Northern Ireland. The football priority today is Stoke City.

That's the way it should be. They pay his wages. He gave everything for his country. Now he is doing the same for his club.

He wants to save them from relegation this season and challenge for promotion next.

Thanks to an agreement with Stoke, when he took over at the bet365 Stadium, he was going to continue as boss of Northern Ireland until the end of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

O'Neill was supposed to guide Northern Ireland to an impressive victory in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the play-off semi-final in March and then inspire an even more famous win against the Republic of Ireland in front of a packed house at Windsor Park.

From there a deal would be reached between O'Neill, Stoke, safe from the drop, and the IFA allowing him to lead the national team in a second major tournament, adding to the magical memories of Euro 2016.

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Great times: Michael O’Neill hails Euro 2016 win over Ukraine

Great times: Michael O’Neill hails Euro 2016 win over Ukraine

Getty Images

Great times: Michael O’Neill hails Euro 2016 win over Ukraine

Many more vital hopes and dreams than that have ended, as well as more tragically and heartbreakingly over 100,000 lives around the world, because of the deadly and devastating coronavirus.

In the grand scheme of things we shouldn't be bothered that the Euro 2020 finals won't take place until 2021 or that nobody knows when the play-offs will be, though therein lies the issue for O'Neill, Stoke and Northern Ireland going forward.

O'Neill himself has said the dual role wouldn't work in September, October or November which are the next available international dates.

I understand no formal talks have taken place between the IFA and Stoke about the current situation.

Of course, the IFA would wish O'Neill to be in charge versus Bosnia but he has to put Stoke first. No one should criticise him for that. Instead, when the era officially ends, praise O'Neill to the hilt. He really has been one of Northern Ireland's greatest ever managers.

Belfast Telegraph