With the news that Michael O’Neill may remain in the Northern Ireland job for the foreseeable future, fans can now enjoy their Christmas holidays with the knowledge that their beloved manager might just be there to guide them to another major tournament.
The talented coach has been strongly linked with a move to both Scotland and the USA, and has also unsurprisingly been connected with numerous clubs throughout the UK, but further talks with the Irish FA are now seemingly underway. The news will be music to the ears of the Northern Ireland faithful, who undoubtedly need a huge lift after their World Cup heartbreak not so long ago.
With 18 wins, 15 draws and 20 losses from 53 games, the 48-year-old’s statistics seemingly don’t resemble anything too special, yet the Portadown man has proven his knack for getting results in the games that matter. Through transforming a side lacking in confidence into one that strongly believes they can compete with the world’s best, O’Neill now has a nation behind him that similarly believe that anything is possible.
It would be a truly ironic turn of events should the former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers man take over Gordon Strachan’s reigns as manager of the Scotland national team, with O’Neill having cited Strachan as his main influence in the field. O’Neill has however come on leaps and bounds since that declaration, guiding Shamrock Rovers to back to back League of Ireland titles in 2010 and 2011, while also becoming the first manager of a League of Ireland side to reach the group stages of a European competition after his Rovers side defeated Partizan Belgrade in the play-off round of the 2010/11 Europa League. His impressive cv continues to grow, and, worryingly for the Northern Ireland faithful, it may simply be a matter of time before an opportunity arises that O’Neill simply cannot refuse.
O’Neill has commanded the respect of his staff, peers and players throughout his six-year tenure, and it is perhaps the last of those three which is the most significant going forward. With several crucial performers considering retirement, O’Neill may just be the key to persuading the likes of Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt to reconsider their options and give one final push in their international careers.
The youthful contingent however may be required to step up should these Northern Ireland legends hang up their boots, and while the loss of such significant professionals would be undeniably unfortunate, the likes of George Saville and Jordan Jones have already proven that they can mix it with the best at international level.
Ever-present performers such as Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood and captain Steve Davis will remain crucial to the setup for many years to come, and if the countless dangerous forwards in the team continue to impress at their respective clubs this season, the squad will remain determined, passionate and hardworking no matter what the task. Underrated yet overachieving may epitomise the phenomenal achievements of this squad, and goalkeeper Michael McGovern may just typify the squad in its entirety, another key figure in the bright future of the Northern Ireland national team.
Keeping hold of their overachieving manager may just be the perfect Christmas present for the Green and White Army who, after years of misery on the international stage, have finally become a force to be reckoned with, all under the guidance of the adored Michael O’Neill.