BELFAST: Michael O’Neill has been appointed as the new manager of Northern Ireland, ahead of Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie, in succession to Nigel Worthington.
The recently-departed Shamrock Rovers boss inherits a side who finish a poor fifth in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, ahead of only the Faroe Islands. He must also confront pressing issues of player availability and eligibility which caused problems for Worthington.
O’Neill, who is thought to be on half of the £450,00-a-year earned by Worthington, said: “I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country. I am a proud Northern Irishman who was fortunate enough to win 33 senior caps and it was always an ambition to manage my country. To be entrusted with the role early in my managerial career is quite humbling but I am confident that we can make progress.
“Northern Ireland has a strong football tradition but one that needs to be refreshed with some more contemporary success. That is my primary objective – to restore a sense of belief and pride in what it means to represent Northern Ireland so that our players will want only to play for their country.
“That is how it should be. There is a huge amount of work to be done but with the right direction and the necessary passion good progress can be made.”
Chief chief executive Patrick Nelson said: “Michael was the standout choice from an excellent field. The selection panel was very impressed with his thoughts and plans for football in Northern Ireland over the coming years.”
O’Neill arrived at Shamrock after a stint in Scotland with Brechin and won back-to-back League of Ireland titles as well as guiding his side to the group phase of the Europa League with a play-off win over Partizan Belgrade – the first League of Ireland side to do so.
He starts work with a Windsor Park friendly against Norway on February 29. Further friendlies are agreed with Holland and Finland before the World Cup 2014 campaign gets under way.