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Alamy Stock Photo Michael O'Neill is back in charge with Northern Ireland.
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Michael O’Neill sets his sights on guiding Northern Ireland to Euro 2024
The 53-year-old has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract which will run until Euro 2028.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 7th 2022, 3:33 PM

MICHAEL O’NEILL has no doubt he can get Northern Ireland to another major tournament after returning to the job a little over two-and-a-half years after leaving for Stoke.

O’Neill has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract on his return to Windsor Park, having previously enjoyed an eight-year reign which was highlighted by Northern Ireland’s run to the last 16 at Euro 2016, ending a 30-year wait to play at a major tournament.

The 53-year-old said the prospect of tarnishing his legacy if things go badly second time around did not worry him as he set his sights on reaching Euro 2024.

“There’s no concerns,” O’Neill said. “If the worst comes to pass and it doesn’t go well, I’ll have to live with that. I’m just approaching it with the same professionalism as I did last time.

“I’m not big on legacies. What we did in the first phase was we built a team that not only qualified and reached the last 16 but was capable to nearly qualify again.

“The objective is to do the same. If I’m not able to do it, I’m not able to do it, that’s the nature of the job. But I’ll try and do all I can to make sure that happens…

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it was possible. Of course there’s an apprehension about it, but that’s important.”

O’Neill revitalised the Green and White Army between 2012 and 2020, inheriting a team that had won two of their last 24 matches but going on to win 36% of his 72 games in charge – the best winning percentage of any Northern Ireland boss since the great Billy Bingham’s first spell ended in 1971.

The run to the last 16 of the Euros six years ago was the obvious highlight, but Northern Ireland also reached the qualifying play-offs for the 2018 World Cup – denied by a controversial penalty against Switzerland – and also pushed Germany and the Netherlands in a brutal group in Euro 2020 qualifying.

That prompted Stoke to come calling in November 2019. O’Neill initially combined duties as he hoped to finish the job of reaching the Euros via the play-offs, but once the pandemic led to the postponement of those games, O’Neill made way for Ian Baraclough to step up from the U21s in April 2020.

O’Neill averted the threat of relegation to League One at Stoke but could not get them into the promotion fight as the club struggled to recruit, and he was sacked in August.

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With Northern Ireland also struggling under Baraclough – who lost 14 of his 28 games in charge and narrowly averted back-to-back relegations in the Nations League – the stars aligned for O’Neill’s return when Baraclough was dismissed in October.

O’Neill must persuade veteran stars including captain Steven Davis, 37, and Jonny Evans, 34, to stay on for one more campaign, but a favourable draw in Euro 2024 qualifying – against Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino – will give the opportunity for him to make an immediate impact.

 

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