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Gareth McAuley: I'm concerned Steven Davis may retire after O'Neill exit - Robinson could be man for the job

It's time for NI lads to show dutch of class

Steven Davis
Steven Davis
Gareth McAuley

By Gareth McAuley

I fear Northern Ireland could be in for a bigger loss than Michael O’Neill soon.

Following Michael’s decision to take up the vacant manager’s position at Stoke City, will skipper Steven Davis be following him out the international exit door?

Since re-joining Rangers last season, Davo’s family has remained in Southampton.

He hardly gets to see them and I know that hits him hard.

Davo is constantly playing for Rangers either on the domestic or European front and then he’s had a busy schedule with Northern Ireland recently. There have been very few breaks and something will have to give.

I think with the loss of Michael, Davo, who will turn 35 on New Year’s Day, could be next and that should be an even greater worry to Northern Ireland fans. He is the catalyst of our team.

Just look at the influence and control he had on the Czech Republic game last month. Northern Ireland go three nil up, Davo goes off and three minutes later, the Czechs have scored twice.

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Davo, as I know from personal experience having played with him throughout my international career, holds the team together.

Michael’s departure really could have a knock-on effect and with Davo obviously wanting to see more of his family and Rangers giving players time-off during the international window, it could be an opportune time for him to call it a day.

That is a major concern.

Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson
Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson

With the departure of Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland set-up must not be allowed to take a step backwards.

There was a reason Aaron Hughes retired first time around and it was largely because everything associated with the international squad was basic. It infuriated me and obviously mild-mannered Hughesy.

Michael introduced a level of professionalism that we were accustomed to with our clubs and welcomed on the international scene.

I know he had to fight hard with the Irish FA in terms of improving coaching, nutrition and travel while going heavy on sports science and video analysis.

It has certainly paid off.

In terms of replacing Michael, continuity will be important and current Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson had a big input into Northern Ireland’s turnaround involvement in Euro 2016.

Michael O'Neill will remain in charge of Northern Ireland until March.
Michael O'Neill will remain in charge of Northern Ireland until March.

When Billy McKinlay left, Robbo and Jim Magilton came in and changed the feel of the squad. The players liked his training sessions, his ideas and having worked with the younger guys, he knows exactly who is coming through. I honestly believe the structure Michael has put in place means we are seeing a steady line of production.

Robbo might decide he doesn’t want to give up the day-to-day running of a club and it’s too soon for him but he would certainly have the respect of the players.

There are no massive egos, it’s a positive dressing room and everyone just wants the best for Northern Ireland.

Under-21 coach Ian Barraclough also took a few training sessions recently and the players liked him and his style.

Of course the IFA, with a decent salary to offer, could look to a coach in England.

That, though, would scratch out the continuity and erase all the good work Michael has put in place.

Ahead of the Netherlands game, a large amount of the outside focus will be on Michael O’Neill leaving, but from the players’ perspective they will simply be concentrating on performing well for their country.

When you play for Northern Ireland, it’s completely different from the club game.

Michael may guide the team, but the players are the driving force once they cross that white line.

There is still an outside chance Northern Ireland may not need the play-offs if they can upset the Dutch followed by Germany a few days later.

It may be a long shot but the belief Michael has instilled in this team will be evident over the next 10 days.

While it will be nice to win for Michael, the players will, as always, be striving to produce their best in a Northern Ireland shirt.

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