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Saturday 23 September 2017

O'Neill: We can cover for McKinlay

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, pictured right, has lost assistant Billy McKinlay, left, to Watford
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, pictured right, has lost assistant Billy McKinlay, left, to Watford

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes the Irish Football Association has the personnel on hand to cope with assistant manager Billy McKinlay's sudden departure.

McKinlay was named as Watford's head coach on Monday and announced he would be stepping down as O'Neill's number two 24 hours later having concluded he could not combine the two positions.

The former Scotland international had previously performed dual duties with the Irish FA and Fulham, where he worked as first-team coach, but taking the top job at Vicarage Road will demand more of his time.

McKinlay's exit left Northern Ireland short on time to prepare for Euro 2016 qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Greece on October 11 and 14 respectively, but O'Neill has not had to look far for a helping hand.

Jim Magilton, O'Neill's assistant at Shamrock Rovers and current IFA elite performance director, and Under-17 boss Stephen Robinson will share McKinlay's workload during the double header.

"Billy's situation changed very dramatically, from being a coach at Watford to being offered the manager's job, and he had a very quick decision to make," O'Neill told Press Association Sport.

"His role with me has always been part-time so I would never have stood in the way of his progression and being away for 10 days with us would not be best for him now.

"But we have contingency with the staff we have, so Jim and Stephen will work with us this time and travel to Greece.

"They'll both add a little bit to the group. Stephen is a very good coach and Jim, as a former Northern Ireland captain, has great experience.

"They're both very infectious characters too so they'll help us cover that gap on the training pitch."

McKinlay had earlier thanked O'Neill for the chance to work on the international stage.

He said: "In accepting the head coach position at Watford, I recognise I've got to concentrate my efforts solely on this club role, so it is with regret that I'll be stepping down from the assistant manager position with Northern Ireland.

''It's been an honour and a privilege to work as part of an international coaching structure.

"I wish Michael, the staff, players and everyone else connected with Northern Ireland football my best for a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.''

O'Neill has named a 27-man squad to face the Faroes and Greece, with Manchester United defender Jonny Evans among those included despite suffering from an ankle injury.

Evans had been expected to be missing until after the international break, but O'Neill is holding out hope he could play some part for the Red Devils against Everton on Sunday.

"I have an ongoing dialogue with Manchester United and I've been keeping in touch with Jonny too. We're hopeful he'll be fit," said O'Neill.

"We're taking it day by day but hopefully he'll be available for us and we wouldn't want to rule him out at this stage.

"What's important is that he's right to play and we'll see what materialises in the next few days."

There was no place for 19-year-old Paddy McNair, who made a surprise debut for United as Evans' stand-in in the win over West Ham, but he could yet be involved if his club-mate is forced out.

Northern Ireland squad to face the Faroe Islands and Greece: R Carroll (Notts County), A Mannus (St Johnstone), M McGovern (Hamilton), A Hughes (Brighton), C Baird, G McAuley (both West Brom), J Evans (Man Utd), R McGivern (Port Vale), C Cathcart (Watford), R McLaughlin (Liverpool), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood), L McCullough (Doncaster), S Davis (Southampton), C Brunt (West Brom), S Clingan (Kilmarnock), C Evans (Blackburn), O Norwood (Reading), S Ferguson (Newcastle), P Paton (Dundee Utd), B Reeves (MK Dons), P McCourt (Brighton), K Lafferty (Norwich), N McGinn (Aberdeen), J Ward (Derby), B McKay (Inverness), J Magennis (Kilmarnock), W Grigg (MK Dons).

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