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'I don't want a fanfare': Michael O'Neill happy to leave Northern Ireland role quietly after successful stint in charge

 

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill says he doesn't want any fanfare when he finally exits the international stage.

The crunch Euro 2020 play-off clash in Bosnia later could have been his last match in charge but the spread of coronavirus has put the fixture in serious doubt, with UEFA likely to postpone it on Tuesday.

The 50-year-old admits the distraction of his daily duties at Stoke has helped deal with the emotional wrench of leaving the post.

An ongoing relegation battle has caused him to avoid reflecting on his Northern Ireland legacy and his remarkable personal journey since taking over in December 2011.

"It is probably a good thing that I've not had much time to think about it," O'Neill told Sunday Life Sport at Stoke's bet365 stadium.

"And I won't have a lot of time to think about it whatever the outcome of the games in March because I'll have to quickly switch back to the situation at Stoke."

O'Neil wants a seamless transition between himself and his successor with the minimum of fuss when the curtain eventually comes down.

"I'm not a manager that wants a fanfare or a lot of honours," he added. "What I can look back on is eight years of a lot of hard work.

"We had a very difficult time at the start to try and turn things around. It was a slow-burner, it was never going to happen overnight, but we've had three campaigns where we've qualified and we're in our second play-off, so there's a lot of positives."

When O'Neill took over, Northern Ireland was a laughing stock on the international stage but he has transformed fortunes, taking them to the Euro 2016 finals and two play-offs.

He has the highest win percentage of any Northern Ireland manager for half-a-century and his 26 wins in 72 matches is more than his three predecessors put together.

The ex-Shamrock Rovers boss has seen not just his own star rise but also those of his players. After years of dubious call-offs and fruitless fixtures, it is a big deal once again to wear the green and white.

He continued: "The positives for me is more to do in the attitude of the players as much as anything else.

"The players within our squad have a real value on their international career. Possibly when I came in, they didn't have that and international football was difficult."

And, of course, O'Neill has reconnected the pride and popularity of the national team with its long-suffering supporters.

He said: "I'll take away the memories of France 2016 and the qualification. We've given a generation of Northern Ireland supporters the chance to go to a major tournament because obviously 1986 (World Cup finals in Mexico) was the last time we participated in one.

"For a lot of people, France was the first opportunity to see Northern Ireland in a major tournament and as I say, we've got the opportunity to do that again and it would be nice to give them that opportunity."

O'Neill accepts that his time in charge of Northern Ireland has seen big changes in his management style and is shaping his latest stint in club management.

The ex-midfielder, who won 31 caps over an eight-year period, added: "I've changed not as a person, but changed as a coach and a manager.

"The biggest thing is man-management. Ultimately, you have to keep players onside, you have to build a good group of lads, who believe, and, in our case, probably over-achieved.

"Everyone said the right time to get out was after Euro 2016 or Russia 2018 but I never felt that was the correct thing for me to do.

"If you look at the scenarios of how I changed, I think it's inevitable I changed. I'm not fully aware of what it may be but there's a tolerance you develop over time as a manager.

"I've been pretty consistent in how I've set my team up - a lot of that consistency is still reflected in Stoke and the 22 games we've been in charge here, but I'm pretty sure the players would answer that question better than I can."

There were huge concerns about the difficulty in balancing both roles with Northern Ireland and Stoke but O'Neill says he weighed the challenges before making the decision and believes he made the right decision.

"There has not been anything that has been in the equation of, 'It's Northern Ireland or Stoke'," he added.

"I kind of knew that the roles would not be conflicted because I knew that if I delegated well with the staff, trusted their views then it would be manageable.

"November to March is the quietest part of an international manager's calendar and that has coincided with the period I've been in charge at Stoke. It wouldn't be doable if you were doing it in September, October and November. That wouldn't be an option.

"Stoke were very good with that because it would have been very difficult to ask someone to come in and take charge, trying to get to know the players. You are coming in with three days preparation and trying to get over the line to a major tournament.

"It was the experience of having done that which gives me the capability to juggle the situation at the moment."

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