Michael O’Neill is determined to lead Northern Ireland to another major tournament after returning for a second time as manager two and a half years after joining Stoke.
O’Neill, 53, signed a five-and-a-half-year contract that will run until Euro 2028. His previous spell in charge saw O’Neill lead Northern Ireland to Euro 2016, ending a wait for 30 years for an appearance in a major final, with the team reaching the round of 16. O’Neill’s international record led to an approach from English second division club Stoke, which he joined in 2019 as he combined that job with his international duties.
But when the Covid pandemic caused Northern Ireland matches to be postponed, O’Neill resigned to focus solely on Stoke, with Ian Baraclough promoted from the Under-21s in April 2020. O’Neill helped Stoke avoid the relegation to the third tier league. One but, unable to participate in the club’s promotion contenders, he was sacked in August. And with Baraclough sacked in October after losing 14 of his 28 games in charge, O’Neill had a clear way to return to the Northern Ireland role.
O’Neill said he was not worried by suggestions that his second stint in international soccer would not be as successful as his first. “There are no worries,” O’Neill said. “If the worst happens and it doesn’t work out, I’ll have to live with it. I am approaching it with the same professionalism as last time.”
As for the suggestions Northern Ireland had been given a good draw for Euro 2024, given that they are in the same qualifying group as Denmark, Finland, Kazakhstan, San Marino and Slovenia, a cautious O’Neill said: “All the Teams will see it as an opportunity, which will make it extremely competitive.”There is an opportunity there if we have good performances and results at home and are hard to beat away from home. That approach will be essential.”