Saturday 24 March 2018

O'Neill: 'Squad convinced me to stay as boss'

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill

Michael O'Neill says it was a series of talks with his Northern Ireland players which convinced him to snub the chance to manage Scotland, and other offers, and stay on with the IFA.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss was expected by some to leave his job with the North: the blow of losing a World Cup playoff to Switzerland in disputed circumstances, the chance to take over the Scots and a feeling by O'Neill that a new voice was needed in the dressing room suggested an exit.

But he attended the draw yesterday for the Nations League as Northern Ireland boss, not Scotland, and will guide them into battle against Austria and Bosnia.

"It's been difficult since the Swiss game because I've had approaches from clubs as well, I've had that situation to deal with and the ongoing situation with Scotland," O'Neill said. "You have to meet people and discuss the job before you know whether it's right for you or not.

"The IFA have been fantastic, they came to me basically straight after the game in Switzerland and offered me an extension.

"I weighed it all up. I had a lot of discussions with the senior players. I think it was important they felt it was right.

"After six years maybe they need a new voice and new approach but that wasn't the case. They've all indicated they will play on which is a bonus for us.

"We have to find some new blood.

"My focus is to continue to develop the national team and improving the game in Northern Ireland as a whole," added O'Neill, who may face a fight with the Republic of Ireland for the services of Paul Smyth, a Belfast-born U21 striker with Northern Ireland who has just broken into the QPR side.

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