Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Underfire Michael O'Neill should get new contract,' says coach Maik Taylor

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland coach Maik Taylor has called for the Irish Football Association to hand Michael O'Neill a new deal despite the side's troubling run of results.

Taylor, who is working on a short-term deal as goalkeeping coach less than two years since winning his last cap, believes O'Neill needs to stay on when his contract expires at the end of the year.

A quick scan of his record - played 13, won only one - does the former Shamrock Rovers boss few favours, with defeats in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in the last two World Cup qualifiers particularly disappointing.

But there is more to the story, with O'Neill working hard behind the scenes to strengthen the Northern Ireland set-up from the bottom, while also overseeing a changing of the guard in the senior side.

Talks will resume after Tuesday's final qualification match in Israel, and Taylor hopes they go well.

"I strongly believe the way forward is with Michael at the helm and leading us into the Euros," Taylor said.

"I really feel if he carries on then everyone will be better for that continuity.

"It's going to take time, no question. Some of the young lads coming into the national side are not even playing club football, but we have a small pool of players and it's not as though we can go out and sign someone, so you do the best you can.

"Michael is very, very passionate. He's hurting as much, if not more, than anyone else.

"If you take the blip in Luxembourg out of it, the performances in all the other games - irrespective of the results - have been strong.

"It is a period of transition at the moment. It's a young squad and although the results haven't always come the lads have set a standard of performance - getting the win against Russia, going very close to a result against Portugal.

"The lads will learn from this campaign."

If O'Neill does get the chance to continue his work with Northern Ireland, it is highly likely he would ask Taylor to stay on in his backroom staff.

At 42, the former Fulham and Birmingham goalkeeper is only just starting to get used to the idea of his playing days being over, but he would be keen to remain involved at club level even if he was offered a full-time role by the IFA.

"I sat down with Michael and he asked me to help out for five games. If he stays that doesn't necessarily mean I stay on, we'll have to sit down and talk.

"I had hoped to play again this season but I've had a niggle with my shoulder and it's set me back a bit. The coaching is something I'm very keen to progress with and there's no reason why I couldn't combine Northern Ireland coaching with a job at a club."

O'Neill, whose position would be strengthened by a second competitive success against Israel, will have to do without suspended trio Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Oliver Norwood, but is hopeful there will be no further withdrawals.

Chris Brunt and Martin Paterson both sat out training on Sunday due to minor knocks from the Azerbaijan game but are not thought to be serious doubts.

"Brunty and Martin won't be training but it is just precautionary and we expect both to be fine for the game," he said.

"The lads who played can do very little work two days after a game anyway, it's more of a recovery session for them but the lads who didn't play can do a little more.

"The majority of work for the match will be done the day before the game."

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