Jim Magilton has said he will endeavour to strengthen Northern Ireland’s future International prospects, in his new role as the Irish FA’s Elite Performance Director, saying change has been “a long time coming”.
Magilton’s input, which he describes will be “hands-on and involved”, will predominantly focus on engaging with footballers aged from around 13 onwards, to help elite youngsters in understanding the pressures of the professional game.
He will also oversee the IFA’s coach education programme.
The former Ipswich Town and QPR boss will also work to promote Northern Ireland and to reduce the number of players who are developed under the IFA banner but choose to declare for the Republic of Ireland.
Magilton said: “[Eligibility] is massive, I think that once we have a structure in place and are working closely with young players and have time with them, it naturally helps to build relationships and with people.
“I will get to know the boys, get to know the parents and if they decide to switch [to the Republic of Ireland] there isn’t a lot we can do about that.
“ But as long as we can look them in the eye and say we have done everything we can for them then that’s all we can do.
“This role is important and it’s been a long time coming.”
Manager Michael O’Neill congratulated his former international teammate on his appointment, describing him as “the right person” to start this long-term vision.
He wants himself, and other coaches, to be able to call up the best of the country’s talent, while Magilton must also work to improve players’ chances of earning - and keeping - professional club contracts.
O’Neill said: “Young players need to have the opportunity to get over [to England] but also to survive and to survive in that environment.
“We suffer because of our proximity to England, and while that’s the natural ambition and everyone wants to go there, we are also sending them into a system which is pretty much failing their own players.
“We have to see what’s the best for our players.
“Perhaps there are opportunities to develop them outside of the UK, because that’s what the smaller nations which are successful at international level tend to do.
“Strategies and documents are alright, but it’s all about having the people who are able to implement these. We need someone who is going to be up for the challenge and Jim’s influence will be enormous in terms of what we want to achieve in Northern Ireland.”
With 75 players aged between 16 and 25 eligible to play for Northern Ireland, the future ought to be reasonably bright.
Less than half of these, however, were born in the province and Magilton is keen to identify home-grown prospects.
“We do have talent here,” the 44-year old said, “there’s no doubt but it is important that they have the proper platform to perform and once we get this structure in place they should flourish in it.
“We need to get to players early, get them into a system and structure and give them the quality input needed and then we will have a better chance of getting them involved at international level.
“It will almost certainly be a hands on role and those who know me know I won’t leave anything to chance.”