Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill looks ahead to Euro 2016 qualifiers

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O’Neill is not wasting any breath on Luis Suarez and expects his players to do the same.

The Northern Ireland manager said the squad’s two upcoming friendlies, against Suarez’s native Uruguay and Chile, fade with insignificance when compared to the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers.

O’Neill said: “All I’m thinking about is the opening qualifiers, because September is not that far away.

“We play three of our first four games away from home so it’s important to get points on the board early.

“That is my focus, not Uruguay and not Suarez and not Chile.

“It’s a great experience for the players but it’s not my priority and it isn’t theirs.”

When asked if he could see a future in post beyond the European qualifiers, he added: “As an international manager,you’re judged on campaigns.

“The performances and outcome of this one will tell me firstly whether I want to stay on and secondly if there’s a job for me.

“The hardest thing about being in international management is moving forward and not letting things get to you. You can go for months having to carry the burden of a heavy defeat and agonising over how to lift the team for the next game.”

Focusing on the positives, therefore, is important and according to O’Neill, criticising his own approach for Northern Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Cyprus, is one crucial way of attaining progress.

Having analysed the match in detail since returning home to Edinburgh, O’Neill knows where his players’ limits are, especially his young newcomers.

“I know I asked players to operate in roles and areas they’re not comfortable with and I have to hold my hands up,” he explained.

“There are young players in our squad and others not getting much game time at their clubs.”

Meanwhile, this week’s confusion over whether Northern Ireland have a third summer friendly against Costa Rica, has ended.

The Costa Rican football federation announced on Tuesday the Green and White Army could look forward to a game at the Giants Stadium, yet Irish FA chiefs claimed to know nothing about it.

It became clear the South Americans had confused Northern Ireland with the Republic, who they have arranged to play on June 7.

A spokesperson for FIFA told the News Letter: “We received confirmation on Friday morning the Costa Rica football federation had made an error, and had corrected the announcement on their website.”

The mix-up is unlikely to have pleased the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) who will have delayed publicising the New York fixture to their fans.

An FAI spokesperson said they would not be commenting, adding: “We are not in a position to announce any further friendlies at this moment.”