MICHAEL O’NEILL PINPOINTED developing a bigger pool of players as a key strategy at his unveiling as the new Northern Ireland manager.
The recently-departed Shamrock Rovers boss doesn’t technically begin his two-year reign until February 1, but he signalled his intent at Windsor Park earlier today.
There has been a considerable amount of criticism aimed towards the FAI from the likes of the IFA’s elite player mentor Gerry Armstrong with regard to players switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland in recent years.
And O’Neill suggested that, with the exception of Manchester United’s Darron Gibson, those who decided to make the move have had little or no impact in the first team.
“Darron Gibson is really the only exception to that, so players who are eligible for us can have long and distinguished careers,” he told UTV.
He added that there are a number of players who have “gathered a huge amount of caps and have fantastic experiences as a Northern Ireland player”.
The 42-year-old has a huge task on his hands taking charge of a team which hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in 25 years and finished ahead of only the Faroe Islands in the qualifiers for Euro 2012.
He also emphasised the significance of making players feel at home early on in their careers.
“It’s important that, from a young age, they feel part of the Northern Ireland set-up and they see a pathway for them,” he added.
The World Cup 2014 qualifier away to Russia will be his first competitive game in charge but first up is a friendly with Norway on February 29.