M O’Neill takes charge

There’s an M O’Neill in charge at Windsor Avenue, but it’s not the M which many Northern Ireland fans would prefer to see at the helm. And yet there should be an abundance of goodwill on offer for the affable former Shamrock Rovers manager, Michael O’Neill, who won 33 caps for Northern Ireland during his playing career and managed to deliver the historic Europa League breakthrough for Irish domestic soccer this season with his Shamrock Rovers club.

2011 was not a productive season for the Northern Irish international side, with only one victory and a Euro 2012 campaign which petered out with losses to an Estonian side that ultimately was shown the door by the Republic of Ireland in a play-off encounter which secured the latter’s place in Poland and Ukraine next June.

O’Neill has been dealt a difficult hand with a World Cup qualifying group including Portugal, Russia and Israel, something he clearly had in mind when appearing to set a realistic bar on expectations with these comments:

my job is to work with the players to sustain a competitive performance throughout the qualifying phase of the 2014 World Cup Finals

Time will tell if O’Neill can return the international side to its glory days of the 1980s, when the side made back to back trips to the World Cups in Spain and Mexico.