INTERNATIONAL: No English interest in O’Neill surprises McIlroy

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has had plenty to smile about over the last couple of years. 
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has had plenty to smile about over the last couple of years. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

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Ex-Northern Ireland boss Sammy McIlroy has been flabbergasted by the lack of apparent interest in present incumbent Michael O’Neill from clubs across the water.

Two Premier League sides and three Championship teams filled vacancies during the recent international break and there were no murmurings regarding O’Neill occupying any of the posts, even though he garnered widespread praise for guiding Northern Ireland to their first major tournament in three decades this summer.

O’Neill signed a four-year deal with the Irish Football Association prior to Euro 2016, but his stock has never been higher having progressed to the last 16 in France, and defender Jonny Evans recently revealed the squad had been surprised that O’Neill’s name had not cropped up on any club’s radar.

McIlroy, who managed the likes of Macclesfield and Stockport in England, has been even more taken aback that no chairman has thought O’Neill worthy of serious consideration.

“I’m very, very surprised,” he said. “I thought with the job he’s done over the last couple of years definitely somebody would have come in and had a look at him. I’m totally shocked, actually, that there’s not even be speculation of a club, very, very shocked.

“Everyone seems to be going for foreign managers. Look at Swansea, where did that come from? No disrespect to Bob Bradley, but that came out of the blue. Ryan Giggs was lined up for that as well, nothing happened.

“I just think now it’s very, very difficult for young British managers to get that chance, for people to have the bottle to give these young managers a chance.”

The 62-year-old former Manchester United midfielder highlighted Cardiff’s appointment of the much-travelled Neil Warnock, 67, as an example of the short-termism that clubs are displaying.

“Neil Warnock is a character, a proven manager, an experienced manager, but he’s had three jobs in the last 12 months, people keep bringing him back,” argued McIlroy.

“I thought Michael or some other young managers, maybe Ryan Giggs, would maybe have a chance but they just seem to keep going for proven managers and it’s very, very hard. You do all these coaching badges to get the chance and it doesn’t come along.”

McIlroy had a far more illustrious playing career than O’Neill but his managerial stints were spent in either non-league or the lower levels of the English Football League.

He does not anticipate O’Neill treading a similar path, though, as McIlroy thinks anything below the top two tiers would represent a step back from his current employment.

“I don’t think Michael would do that with the stock he’s got now with Northern Ireland,” McIlroy said.

“I think if he is ever going to leave Northern Ireland it will be for a big Championship club with potential.

“I don’t think he’ll go any lower than that because of the job he’s got here. He may as well stay here and keep doing the job he’s doing. It’s interesting that no one has ever taken a chance on him.”

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