Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

O'Neill reveals open approach

Michael O'Neill wants his arrival as Northern Ireland manager to signal a new beginning for the national side - and has called on every eligible player to be part of it.

O'Neill officially begins work as Nigel Worthington's successor on February 1 but met the media at the Irish Football Association's Windsor Avenue headquarters on Wednesday and wasted no time in laying out his plans for the future.

Chief among them is a desire to welcome back into the fold a host of players who have not been involved recently through retirement, selection or - most controversially - a desire to represent the Republic of Ireland, and O'Neill said: "I will bring an openness to the job and I will make the national team fully inclusive for all players eligible to play."

The recent trend for young Northern Ireland-born players to pledge their international futures to the Republic is one of the most pressing issues facing the IFA, and though some of those may be out of O'Neill's reach - FIFA only allow a player to switch his declared nationality once - he hopes to persuade as many players as possible to join his cause.

"I've never hidden the fact I think it (players switching allegiance) is wrong," O'Neill said.

"What I would say to any young player is think long hard about that decision because, of the players who have made it to date, only Darron Gibson has played a competitive international for the Republic.

"You have to understand where your long-term future is. For players born in Northern Ireland, I think maybe they should aspire to long and distinguished careers for Northern Ireland rather than sitting on the periphery of the [Republic] squad."

One high-profile player O'Neill hopes to speak to is Sunderland's James McClean, who represented the IFA at age-group levels before rejecting Worthington's call-up to the senior side last year in favour of a possible - but as yet unfulfilled - future with the Republic.

"James McClean is eligible for Northern Ireland so of course he's on my radar," he said. "Whilst respecting the wishes of the players I'll be doing everything in my power and my remit to emphasise to them that their long-term futures lie with the Northern Ireland national team.

"Any player who is still eligible for Northern Ireland will come under consideration."


From Belfast Telegraph