Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill is right up there alongside Billy Bingham, insists World Cup hero

By Graham Luney

World Cup hero Billy Hamilton thinks that time may be up for Michael O'Neill in charge of Northern Ireland.

Hamilton believes that if O'Neill moves on to another international side or into club football he should do so with the appreciation of a nation for taking the country back to the glory days.

And in a glowing tribute, the former Oxford United and Burnley striker stated that O'Neill should be rated alongside his old boss and legendary figure Billy Bingham, who Hamilton played for in the 1982 and 1986 finals.

O'Neill is a wanted man after leading Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals and to the World Cup play-offs, with Scotland extremely keen to bring him on board.

The USA are also keeping an eye on the situation but it looks as though the Northern Ireland boss has ruled out the possibility of taking over at English Championship side Sunderland, who had also expressed an interest.

Hamilton said: "I think Michael O'Neill has done a tremendous job with Northern Ireland. He is up there with Billy Bingham. He inspired us to qualify for the Euros for the first time in our history and was close to qualifying for the World Cup.

"He has given us everything. The IFA stuck with him through the hard times and I'm sure they are glad they did.

"He has rewarded them with qualification for the Euros and helped them have a great campaign in the World Cup. Now it is time for Michael to think what he wants to do next.

"No Northern Ireland fan could be disgruntled if Michael wanted to take on a new challenge. He won't want to ask the question in later years 'What if'? Michael may well be thinking maybe it's time to go and seek that new challenge.

"Scotland are in for him and that may be very appealing. Personally I would have thought that he would like a challenge in club management with a Premier League club or a good Championship side, but then in club football now you don't seem to get the time and you could be out of the job in six months or six weeks instead of having the chance to build.

"He is a shrewd man, he knows his stock is high and will know what decision is best for him. It's a sad note that he may leave but the supporters owe him a lot for what he done for them and the team. He has been very popular with the players and he has handled himself very well and I think he has been a credit to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland football and should be remembered as such whatever happens."

Hamilton's former international team-mate Gerry Armtrong (below) hopes O'Neill goes nowhere.

"I'd be surprised if Michael swapped one international job for another," said Armstrong, who earned 63 caps and scored Northern Ireland's most famous goal, the winner against hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals.

"I can understand him being attracted by a club job but I don't think he will rush into anything.

"I can't say I can get inside his mind but, even if I could, I'm not sure I'd find one that was entirely made up. He will take time to mull things over, I'm sure. I might not know what he'll do next but I can say what he has done for us in the past few years has been fantastic. Think about Sunday. If not for that disgrace of a penalty decision in the first leg (that gave Switzerland a 1-0 win) it could have been all so different.

"The Swiss are one of the form sides in Europe, hadn't lost on their own patch since 2008, and yet against little Northern Ireland they were hanging on at the end, kicking the ball anywhere to get the 0-0 draw, a Northern Ireland with only four players of real note in Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Steven Davis."

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