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Northern Ireland Michael O’Neill: ‘Seeing Northern Ireland play will hit me the hardest’, says Stoke City boss


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Northern Ireland Michael O’Neill: ‘Seeing Northern Ireland play will hit me the hardest’, says Stoke City boss

Michael O’Neill’s final home game was Northern Ireland’s impressive 0-0 draw with a star-studded Netherlands sideMichael O’Neill has said that leaving the Northern Ireland manager’s job will not sink in until he watches them play under a new boss.O’Neill will solely focus on his role at Stoke City manager after stepping away from the international…

Northern Ireland Michael O’Neill: ‘Seeing Northern Ireland play will hit me the hardest’, says Stoke City boss

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Michael O'Neill

Michael O’Neill’s final home game was Northern Ireland’s impressive 0-0 draw with a star-studded Netherlands side

Michael O’Neill has said that leaving the Northern Ireland manager’s job will not sink in until he watches them play under a new boss.

O’Neill will solely focus on his role at Stoke City manager after stepping away from the international set-up after eight years on Wednesday.

“When I see Northern Ireland play again I think it will hit me more than anything,” said the 50-year-old.

“Until then I’ve plenty on my plate to keep me busy at Stoke.”

The postponement of the European Championship play-offs from March to a potential date in October, because of the coronavirus outbreak, meant it “wasn’t feasible” to continue working in the two roles, added O’Neill.

“It was the right time for me; eight years is a long time,” he said.

“It’s a long time particularly when you’ve got a small group of players because after a while you wonder: ‘Am I getting fed up with them?’ and ‘are they getting fed up with me?’

“You kind of look at each other at times think: ‘Do they need some freshness?’

“Maybe there is an element of someone else coming in who will bring a little bit of freshness, and the players need that as well.”

‘Best solution for everyone’

O’Neill would like to have guided Northern Ireland to another major finals, but says he will not dwell on the situation.

“I’m not really the type of person who wants to do a lap of the pitch,” he added.

“I look back on the eight years fondly. It wasn’t always good; there were tough times in there.

“The decision to take the job with Stoke in November was a harder decision than the one now.

“It’s just a shame it’s been brought to a closure with the current situation.”

O’Neill guided Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals – their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup

The former Shamrock Rovers boss feels the timing of the decision was right to be fair to the Irish FA, his replacement and Stoke City.

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“It would be a very difficult situation for a manager to come straight into a play-off game with two days preparation,” he said.

“Especially when you consider what is at stake, even financially for an association like the IFA. 10 million euros for qualification is a lot of money.

“It gives the new manager the chance to get familiar with the players. If everything goes as scheduled, they will have two Nations League matches before the play-offs.

“There’s no football at the minute, the earliest we’ll see international football is September which I think is possibly a little ambitious.

“It is important that they get competitive games and I think it is the best solution for everyone given the current circumstances.”

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