Belfast Telegraph

Who will be the next Northern Ireland manager? The contenders and the odds to take over after Michael O'Neill's move to Stoke

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Who gets your vote to become the next permanent Northern Ireland manager?
Who gets your vote to become the next permanent Northern Ireland manager?
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland will soon be on the look-out for a new manager with Michael O'Neill set to bring the curtain down on his long and successful reign in favour of a move to Stoke.

O'Neill will still be at the helm for the upcoming Euro 2020 double-header and even the play-offs in late March, giving the Irish FA time to decide on his replacement.

It is as yet unclear whether O'Neill would still be the manager should Northern Ireland reach the European Championships but, sooner or later, it is expected that the Irish FA will have to appoint a new man.

So just who could it be?

Assuming the likes of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger (both 66/1) aren't going to be in the running, here's a look at some of the more realistic contenders to replace O'Neill (odds via Paddy Power):

1. Stephen Robinson (Motherwell) - 6/4

The current Motherwell manager is a wanted man on more than one front. He's been linked with both of the vacant jobs at Edinburgh giants Hearts and Hibernian. He's currently trying his best to remain focused on his current club's trip to Celtic on Sunday but the news of O'Neill's impending departure won't help that quest.

Robinson is sure to be one of the key names in the frame for the job due to his success in Scotland and his links to the international set-up.

The 44-year-old, who earned seven caps for Northern Ireland during his own playing career, has been in charge at The Well since March 2017. In his first full season in charge, he guided the club to both the League Cup and Scottish Cup finals. His side are currently in third place in the league table, behind only Celtic and Rangers.

Also working in his favour is the fact Robinson is a familiar face to some of the current Northern Ireland squad, having taken charge of the Under 21s before becoming part of Michael O'Neill's coaching staff during the successful qualification campaign for Euro 2016.

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Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson

2. Oran Kearney (Coleraine) - 9/4

Perhaps a surprise second favourite in the early odds is Coleraine manager Oran Kearney.

He's currently on a 51 game unbeaten run in the three big domestic competitions. Kearney, until last year, had spent an entire playing and management career in the Irish League but showed his skills can transfer to the professional game when he enjoyed a ninth month spell as St Mirren boss and earned admirers across Scotland by helping the club secure an unlikely top tier survival.

He has continued to succeed since arriving back in the Irish League, with his Bannsiders team currently at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.

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Coleraine boss Oran Kearney

3. Tommy Wright (St Johnstone) - 5/1

The former Northern Ireland goalkeeper has been a huge success in a six year spell as St Johnstone manager.

Wright successfully cut his managerial teeth in the Irish League by steering Limavady to unlikely top tier survival, leading Ballymena to the County Antrim Shield final and winning the League Cup with Lisburn Distillery.

The impressive start earned Wright a move to become goalkeeping coach in Perth, and he was handed the reins after Steve Lomas' 2013 departure. His first five seasons in charge ended in top six finishes but the highlight came in 2014, when Wright helped the club to Scottish Cup glory with a 2-0 final win over Dundee United.

This season has had a shaky start, although last weekend's 3-2 win over Hamilton catapulted the side up to ninth place. There's little doubt Wright has respected pedigree and may not be far from discussions over O'Neill's replacement.

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St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright

4. Grant McCann (Hull City) - 9/1

Former Northern Ireland midfielder McCann is impressing in his fledgling career, having earned a move to Hull by guiding Doncaster to the League One play-offs last season.

Whether or not the Irish FA could tempt him into leaving his new role with Hull 11th in the Championship table and only three points off a play-off place remains to be seen.

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Grant McCann

5. David Healy (Linfield) - 10/1

If he was guaranteed to be half as good a manager for Northern Ireland as he was a striker, it would be a one horse race.

The nation's record goal-scorer has made an impressive start to his career in the dugout, having already landed six trophies in his first four years as Linfield boss.

There was a bit of a topsy-turvy start, with a 2017 treble - featuring the league title, the Irish Cup and the County Antrim Shield - followed by the 17/18 season that yielded only the Charity Shield.

It was last season that Healy seemed to take another significant step forward by securing the league title and the League Cup in convincing fashion. This time it was followed by a stunning European campaign, wins over HB Torshavn and FK Sutjeska setting up what would be a narrow play-off defeat to Qarabag.

Healy, of course, was the GAWA's darling his 13 year playing career as he netted 36 goals in 95 caps.

Whether or not he is ready to manage at international level will be considered by the Irish FA as he is likely to be amongst the candidates to succeed O'Neill.

And it's worth remembering the association plucked O'Neill from Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland.

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Linfield manager David Healy

6. Ian Baraclough (Northern Ireland Under 21) - 12/1

The current Northern Ireland U21 manager's reputation is on the up after enjoying an impressive first campaign in charge, including a headline-grabbing win in Spain.

That victory in Albacete ended the hosts' run of 14 wins from 15 games and kept alive Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the 2019 UEFA Euro U21 Championships. It was a hope that would not run out until the final night of the campaign as they finished second in the group, narrowly missing a play-off place.

Many of the players in and around the Northern Ireland senior squad have worked under Baraclough, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis, Ciaron Brown, Gavin Whyte, Liam Donnelly, Mark Sykes, Bobby Burns and Shayne Lavery all having been part of his Under 21s.

Before taking charge of the underage side, Baraclough took Sligo Rovers to their first League of Ireland title in 35 years and went on to lead Motherwell to Scottish Premiership survival in 2015.

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Ian Baraclough

7. Jim Magilton (Irish FA Elite Performance Director) - 12/1

The former Ipswich and Queens Park Rangers boss has been out of management since he led Northern Ireland Under 21s from 2015 to 2017. He has worked in his current role with the IFA since 2013 and was recently heavily involved in setting up Northern Ireland's first full-time residential Academy for young players.

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Jim Magilton

8. Martin O'Neill (Unattached) - 16/1

While once upon a time, the former Northern Ireland captain would have been considered a huge coup for the Irish FA, his stock has fallen from where it once was.

O'Neill guided Leicester to two League Cup titles and Celtic to seven domestic trophies during a highly successful spell in Scotland. After being sacked by Sunderland in 2013, he took charge of the Republic of Ireland and reached the knockout stages of Euro 2016.

However, the latter years of his Dublin reign were dogged by criticisms over the team's style of play and he left the job in November 2018 after a heavy World Cup play-off loss to Denmark and a bottom place finish in the Nations League group. He and assistant Roy Keane took charge at Nottingham Forest in January but was sacked after finishing ninth in the Championship.

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Martin O'Neill

9. The Outsiders

The next man potentially in with a chance is current assistant manager Austin MacPhee. Also ranked at 16/1, MacPhee has helped O'Neill since March 2014 and formed a key part of the coaching team that reached Euro 2016 and a play-off for the 2018 World Cup. However, he lacks managerial experience, having been an assistant since beginning his coaching career in charge of amateur team Cupar Hearts. MacPhee is currently in caretaker charge at Hearts and could be in the running for either the managerial or sporting director role at the club.

Also ranked at 16/1 in the early betting is former Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes. The 40-year-old only retired from his own playing career at the end of last season but was soon tipped for a return to the national team in the form of a coach of scout by Michael O'Neill as Hughes studied for his UEFA B coaching badge during the summer.

While it is thought the Irish FA favour appointing a manager with a link to the association, there are some outside names currently out of work, including the likes of Mark Hughes, Nathan Jones and Roy Keane at 33/1 and Sam Allardyce and David Moyes at 40/1. All of those, it's fair to say, would represent a surprise appointment.

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