28 December, 2011

O'Neill is new Norn Iron boss:

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MOVING ON: Michael O'Neill (front) is IFA's main man
            Former Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O'Neill has been confirmed as the manager of Northern Ireland by IFA Chief Execuive Peter Nelson.  O'Neill had fantastic success with Rovers; winning two Airtricity League Titles and breaching new ground by guiding the side to become the first Irish side to reach the group stages of a major European competition.  However, relations became strained with Rovers' hierarchy - who couldn't give him the financial guarantees he wanted - and O'Neill quit immediately after the Hoops' final game of the 2011 season.
            O'Neill edged out a number of other high profile candidates; including Brian Kerr, Ian Dowie, Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Jones, to name but a few.  The Portadown native will start his role in February, when preparations for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers will commence.  Whilst the aim will be to finish in the top two; O'Neill faces an uphill struggle as the side he inherits finished fifth (out of six) in Euro 2012 qualification.  They are also placed in a tough group, containing two Euro 2012 (and World Cup 2010) finalists in Portugal and Russia.  Whilst no-one in the IFA will state this; finishing in third place would be a great achievement, considering that Northern Ireland are fifth seeds and also face long haul trips to Azerbaijan and such cauldrons as the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv (Israel's national stadium).

 "Michael was the stand out choice from an excellent field. The selection panel was very impressed with his plans for football in Northern Ireland" - IFA President Jim Shaw

            At a press conference announcing the appointment, O'Neill said:  "I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country. I am a proud Northern Irishman and it was always an ambition to manage my country.  To be entrusted with the role early in my career is quite humbling and I am confident that we can make progress.
           My primary objective is to restore a sense of pride and belief in what it means to represent Northern Ireland so that our players will want to only represent their country."  
Michael O'Neill enjoyed immense success in club football
           The last paragraph is an obvious reference to the North's contemporaries south of the border (the FAI) who have poached many Northern Irish born players for the Republic of Ireland set-up; including even several players over the last few years who played at underage level for the North.
           Michael O'Neill has signed a three year contract with the IFA.  His first game in charge will be a friendly at Belfast's Windsor Park on 29th February against Norway.  This will be followed by a June friendly in the Netherlands before the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign starts away to Russia in early September 2012 with a further three qualifiers completing the calender year.
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