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Josh Magennis: Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland departure is heartbreaking but we must accept it

 

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Josh Magennis is coming to terms with the likelihood he won't play international football under Michael O'Neill again

Josh Magennis is coming to terms with the likelihood he won't play international football under Michael O'Neill again

William Cherry/Presseye

Josh Magennis is coming to terms with the likelihood he won't play international football under Michael O'Neill again

Philosophical Josh Magennis says the impact of the deadly coronavirus outbreak has suddenly put Michael O'Neill's expected departure as Northern Ireland manager into perspective.

UEFA have indefinitely postponed Northern Ireland's Euro play-off semi-final with Bosnia, which had been rescheduled for June, while COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across Europe and around the world.

With O'Neill having engineered a resurgence at Stoke City in the Championship in recent months, the Irish FA had hoped the Ballymena man would be permitted by his Potteries employers to manage his national side in June, but now that game has been scrubbed and with September and next March mentioned as possible dates for the play-off, it's highly likely O'Neill's international tenure is over.

"Let's be honest, with what's been happening in the world, football is not a major priority in people's lives," says striker Magennis, who has won 47 of his 50 Northern Ireland caps under O'Neill.

"People's health and safety is much more important, so football will have to take a back seat.

"When football does get back up running, it may be some time and therefore it may rule Michael out of continuing in his Northern Ireland role. People will just have to accept it. It will be heartbreaking but we've had some unbelievable memories we'll be able to take with us."

O'Neill has been in charge of Northern Ireland since 2011 and after being appointed Stoke boss last November, he negotiated a deal to manage the men in green on a part-time basis through the Euro play-offs.

But with the international games pushed back until possibly the autumn at the earliest, it looks increasingly likely he'll have to relinquish the Northern Ireland reins.

Only three weeks ago, O'Neill told Sunday Life Sport: "It wouldn't be doable if you were doing it in September, October and November. That wouldn't be an option."

Sunday Life Sport understands the Irish FA have not discussed the current situation with O'Neill and the Association would only confirm to Sunday Life Sport that it 'is a watching brief' at present.

Under-21 boss, Ian Baraclough, is understood to be the favourite to replace O'Neill.

O'Neill led Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championships four years ago in France and they were on the cusp of making it to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

Hull hitman Magennis saw his international career ignited under O'Neill, with the international chief showing tremendous faith in the Bangor-born lad, playing him in key matches.

"This is not how we wanted it to end for Michael," sighs Magennis, who has been keeping in contact with his international team-mates through their WhatsApp group. "But it's been taken out of hands. You want to go out on a high and recreate what happened in 2016. That may not be the case now.

"We've had absolutely unbelievable times with Michael and he deserves a great send-off, whether it be a lap of honour or something with the boys and I'm sure that can be arranged.

"With the way things have been postponed and the uncertainty around the rescheduling of games, that well could be Michael finished with Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph