Sport Soccer

Saturday 22 July 2017

Stewart insists ex-Rovers boss has skill-set to make step up

Jamie Holland

MICHAEL O'NEILL will be a hit as Northern Ireland manager, according to a man who helped him win his first silverware as a manager.

Ex-Northern Ireland U-21 captain Thomas Stewart scored a number of important goals during Shamrock Rovers' League of Ireland triumph in 2010 -- their first title in 16 years.

O'Neill went on to win a second successive title, but it is understood that his impending appointment is -- to a large extent -- down to Rovers' run to the group stages of the Europa League this season.

It isn't just the fact that O'Neill made history by leading an Irish club into the group stages of a European competition for the first time, but the style in which his charges played in the illustrious company of Tottenham, Rubin Kazan and PAOK Salonika also caught the eye.

And Stewart -- now at Partick Thistle -- believes he will do even better when Northern Ireland come up against Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in the World Cup qualifiers.

"Qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League was fantastic for Shamrock Rovers this season, but we'd a good run the year before when we ended up playing Juventus," said Stewart, who scored the goal against Israeli side Bnei Yehuda that set up that meeting with Juve.

"That was an amazing experience and we got respectable results in those games. Michael knew how to adapt the formation and the tactics to suit the particular opposition.

"He'll have a higher quality of player at international level and with better players he'll get even better results."

Although he only played under O'Neill's management for one season, Stewart saw the qualities in the 42-year-old that he believes will help the new international boss make the step up.

"Tactically he knows his stuff," Stewart added. "He is young, he has good ideas. Michael will do a very good job as international manager."

Irish Independent

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