Dual role ‘dead easy’ for Michael O’Neill as Northern Ireland prepare for EURO 2020 play-off

Michael O’Neill has insisted he will have no problem juggling his new role as Stoke boss with his position as Northern Ireland manager between now and the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs in March.

Sunday, 17th November 2019, 4:46 pm
Michael ONeill - in an embrace with captain Steven Davis - heads off the pitch on Saturday following what is expected to prove his final home game as Northern Ireland manager. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

An agreement between the Potters and the Irish FA allows O’Neill to remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the fixtures next spring - their last chance of reaching Euro 2020 after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Holland closed the door on automatic qualification.

“It’s dead easy,” he said. “We’re going to turn up on a Sunday and play on a Thursday, I can pick my squad now, I could name it tomorrow, there are not 40 players out there we’re not picking.

“I’ll be able to (prepare for the opposition). That’s not a problem. Our opponents don’t play between now and then, they’ve already played.

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“We’re not going to watch individual players play for their clubs, so the work we have on the opponents, we’ll have that well in advance.

“In this job, I could watch 40 games or two games and 99 per cent of the time, my squad will be pretty much the same, so people are making a lot out of this situation, which doesn’t exist.

“To be honest, there’s nobody better than me to judge this because I actually do the job and the reality of the situation is to put a coach in with a play-off situation with three days’ preparation wouldn’t be fair to the players or the association because of what’s at stake.”

Virtually every play-off permutation has Northern Ireland playing away, making Saturday almost certainly O’Neill’s Windsor Park farewell. He will end his tenure having taken charge of 32 home games, winning 17 and drawing six.

“I think this stadium used to be a place where at times (our own) players and fans dreaded coming,” he said. “Now we have a great atmosphere here, the redevelopment of the stadium has been a big factor but what we also have is a group who love playing here and a really strong bond between the supporters and the players.”