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O'Neill gets chance to show worth in big-time

SO, finally there is going to be an 'M O'Neill' managing Northern Ireland. Up north, they've wanted to see that for years.

They'll now find out if the reality proves to be as good as the dream scenario they've envisaged for a decade... What do you mean, it's the wrong M?

The belief in some quarters is that Martin O'Neill will never become the boss of Northern Ireland but, as revealed yesterday, Michael O'Neill is the latest chosen one to lead the North, hopefully out of the wilderness and into the promised land of the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil -- although a few decent results would do for a start.

O'Neill has been offered the chance to be Nigel Worthington's successor and his appointment could be confirmed as early as next week once personal terms and the make-up of his back-room staff are agreed.

The Ballymena man, a winner of 33 caps, has been high on the IFA's list of candidates for some time.

Worthington was still the manager in September when stories broke suggesting that IFA chiefs had made the 42-year-old their prime target. Even then there were certain people in the association who had decided O'Neill was the man.

Now he'll get the opportunity to prove it, having been given the nod ahead of former Northern Ireland team-mates Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton.

Those who placed big wagers on O'Neill a few weeks ago, forcing bookies to stop taking bets for a spell, will be delighted that some much-needed cash is coming their way.

Out of the shortlisted trio it is a risky choice by the IFA, because Dowie and Magilton have more managerial experience from their time in charge of Premier League and Championship clubs in England.

O'Neill's jobs to date have been in Scotland with little Brechin City and with Shamrock Rovers, where he proved to be a massive success leading the Tallaght outfit to back to back League of Ireland titles and into the group stages of the Europa League.

That was an outstanding achievement but there's no doubt he's taking a huge leap up the ladder entering the international arena.

While respected as a clever midfielder, he wasn't as popular as Magilton or Dowie with the Windsor Park faithful in his playing days, therefore will have a shorter honeymoon period than those two would have enjoyed.

He'll take over a team who have lost their last four games and finished the Euro 2012 qualifying group in a dismal fifth place, only ahead of Faroe Islands.


O'Neill will face a number of problems which were discussed during his successful IFA interview.

Among them, the commitment -- or lack thereof -- of some of Northern Ireland's bigger names, coping with the recent international retirements of stalwart defenders Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan, the lack of goals that was never a worry when David Healy was firing on all cylinders and the growing list of players defecting to the Republic.

And that's before he starts next year's World Cup qualifiers which will include testing games in Russia and Portugal early on in the campaign.

There is good news for O'Neill, though, and it's that he is entering the role at the right time when the only way is up, just like when Lawrie Sanchez took over from Sammy McIlroy.

Also like the former Wimbledon midfielder, who jumped the Northern Ireland ship to join Fulham, this job could be a stepping stone for O'Neill --who is expected to be paid around £250,000 per year as opposed to the £450,000 Sanchez's successor Worthington was on at the end of his reign.

The new manager's choice of back-room staff will be interesting. At Shamrock Rovers, Magilton acted as a team consultant and was very much part of the success story there. It's unlikely that Magilton will want to come on board this time.

Starting out his career at Coleraine as a teenager, O'Neill went on to shine as a young goalscoring midfielder at Newcastle, alongside Paul Gascoine.

Big things were expected of him but he left Toon in 1989 and from there went from club to club, which included a spell with Glentoran, without ever truly establishing himself in the way many felt he would.

He never lived up to his vast potential as a player. Will that prove to be the case as manager? We're about to find out just how good 'M O'Neill' really is.

Irish Independent