Wednesday 22 November 2017

Michael O’Neill seeking to extend contract with Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill

Rory Dollard

Michael O'Neill may be seeking his first win as Northern Ireland manager against Russia tonight, but he is already willing to sign up for another two years in the job.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss inherited a squad short of results and confidence when he took the helm at the start of 2012 and has so far failed to record his first win.

He has overseen five draws and three defeats in that time and faces another tough challenge at Windsor Park as he attempts to end Russia's 100% record in World Cup qualifying.

But he has found the job a rewarding one and is hoping to be given the chance to take his work into a second campaign.

His two-year deal expires at the end of the current qualifying programme, but he encouraged the Irish Football Association to offer a new one.

"The job for me was always until the end of this campaign but I have enjoyed the challenge," he said.

"If the association felt they wanted me to continue to the Euros I would do that, simple as that.

"It takes you six months to learn the nature of the job and what's expected. But the relationship between myself and the players is strong and can only continue to develop. Certainly, I would welcome that opportunity.

"Equally, if the association felt they wanted to go in a different direction then I would accept that and be grateful for the opportunity I've been given."

While most fans probably accept a return to tournament football for the first time since 1986 is going to be a huge ask for any manager, O'Neill has no problem with aiming high.

"I've been in the job a year and we've only had 22 days to work with the players, so that's a challenge," he said.

"You have to mould a team. We'll always be a team that is more than the sum of its parts. In the period of time we have had with the players that's what we have tried to work on.

"I believe this is a group of players who can win games at international level, be competitive and, given time, can get the opportunity to get close to qualification for a major tournament."

Steven Davis was handed the captaincy as one of O'Neill's first acts as manager and the Southampton midfielder is happy with the direction the side are taking.

"When you take a step back and analyse our games, we are definitely progressing," he said.

"We have been disappointed not to win during the group but when you look at performance levels, they have been good.

"The one thing we have been missing is perhaps a bit of fortune.

"But if we keep playing in the same way with the same commitment, desire and shape, it will come."

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