Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Sammy Clingan reveals what makes Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill so special


By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland have just one more team to conquer to make it to the World Cup finals in Russia next summer and Sammy Clingan believes Michael O'Neill's impressive homework will make it mission accomplished.

The eagerly-awaited draw for the play-offs will be made on Tuesday with Northern Ireland facing a shoot-out against either Italy, Switzerland, Denmark or Croatia.

Home and away legs will be played on November 9-11 and November 12-14, and as O'Neill's side are unseeded for the draw the road ahead has become more treacherous, but the current crop of players are desperate to experience a World Cup for the first time and, having worked so hard to finish behind Germany in qualifying Group C, the squad are not ready to let the dream slip through their grasp.

The players can also rely on O'Neill's meticulous attention to detail and his skill at gathering information on the strengths and weaknesses of opponents ahead of the tense double-header.

While the Northern Ireland players will need to hold their nerve and handle the high-pressure situation, they will at the very least be armed with the information they need to take down a European heavyweight and begin checking passport expiry dates.

Glenavon midfielder Clingan, who won 39 caps, believes O'Neill will work his magic again and end 32 years of World Cup qualifying hurt for Northern Ireland.

"Our achievements are down to Michael and how he sends his players into matches," said the former Coventry City and Nottingham Forest ace.

Clingan was speaking during a Facebook Live video for Belfast Telegraph Sport with Paul Ferguson and Gareth Hanna. Watch the whole episode right here and keep reading below:

Former Northern Ireland National Team midfielder Sammy Clingan discusses the World Cup qualifying campaign with our NI reporters Paul Ferguson and Gareth Hanna. Send us your questions

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"His attention to detail and preparation is fantastic," Clingan continued. "He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and how they are going to play.

"When you have players that are willing to work so hard for the team, that's very refreshing.

"When I watch Northern Ireland I can see their team shape and organisation is very good.

"Whether they play with four in midfield or with five, the way they move the ball and work hard impresses me. It makes a massive difference in the game.

"Every player knows their roles and responsibilities in the team. The big screen is up in the hotel the night before the game and every player is informed about the opposition so everyone knows where you need to be on the pitch for set-pieces. Away from the game he's a nice guy, he wouldn't shun you.

"I've worked with some managers who when you aren't playing in the team might overlook you, but every single player in that squad feels a part of it.

"It's been an absolutely fantastic achievement reaching the play-offs. That was the aim, and when you come up against Germany you always know that they are going to win the group.

"For a side that has never lost an away World Cup qualifier, you cannot see any team taking points off them. Second place was what the lads were aiming for and to achieve that with two games to go and then guarantee a play-off spot is amazing.

"It's obviously disappointing to end the campaign with the two defeats, but there wasn't a great deal between the two sides in Norway and the goal conceded was disappointing, but if anyone would have said to you before the campaign you would be guaranteed a play-off spot and lose your last two games you would have snapped their arm off, so it shows how far the lads have progressed under Michael and they deserve everything they get."

Clingan's career has been plagued by injuries, and in a Belfast Telegraph Facebook Live interview yesterday he admitted his international caps total should be higher.

The west Belfast man would love to be involved in the senior squad at this exciting time in the nation's history but he's still proud to be a member of the Green and White Army cheering on the boys.

"I had a taste of it under Michael, and he was a great guy, I enjoyed working with him, but I had my injuries at Kilmarnock which set me back," he said.

"Other players like Oliver Norwood were coming through and I was not guaranteed my place. For a lot of my caps I had a starting place, I rarely came off the bench, but it was right that others stepped up.

"Had I stayed in full-time football and played I would like to have stayed involved in the squad. I enjoyed my time but I had seen change coming.

"Even before the results turned you could see what Michael was trying to do. What we couldn't have predicted was how well the team has performed.

"At centre-back you have Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart who are all Premier League players. If you look at the spine of the team it's very strong."

Clingan says it's also a mystery why a top-four club in England's top flight hasn't made a move for Northern Ireland's Captain Marvel Steven Davis.

"I've known Steven really well since Under-16 level and he's an unbelievable player," added Clingan. "If he played for England there would be more people ranting and raving about him.

"If we can get the ball to him it feels like he is going to create something. Davo's had an amazing career and can look back and say he's done well, but it's strange that a top-four team hasn't come in for him. Maybe if he was German, but in my eyes he's top notch."

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