MICHAEL O’NEILL HAS been confirmed as the new manager of the Northern Ireland national football team.
The board of the Irish Football Association (IFA) met this morning to ratify O’Neill’s appointment for a two-year term which will begin on 1 February and run through until the end of the World Cup 2014 qualification campaign.
Reports last week suggested that the Portadown native had topped the shortlist of candidates to succeed Nigel Worthington following three hugely successful years as manager of Shamrock Rovers.
Under O’Neill, Rovers won back-to-back Airtricity League titles in 2010 and 2011 and made history as the first Irish side to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League before they parted ways with him earlier this month.
“I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country,” O’Neill said in a statement released this afternoon.
“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.
O’Neill’s first task will be to ready his side for a friendly against Norway in Windsor Park on 29 February. Northern Ireland have also accepted an invitation to play the Netherlands in Amsterdam in June as part of the Dutch preparations for Euro 2012.
The new manager’s first competitive game will come against Russia in Moscow on 7 September when the qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup kicks off. Northern Ireland have been drawn in Group F alongside Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
“The board and the CEO have a clear plan for the future and have given me responsibility to set about the task of renewal within the context of a long-term plan,” O’Neill said.
At the same time, in the interests of everyone involved, most particularly our supporters my job is to work with the players to sustain a competitive performance throughout the qualifying phase of the 2014 World Cup Finals.
IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson also welcomed O’Neill’s appointment, describing the former Brechin City boss as “the stand out 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,” Nelson said. “We are all looking forward to 29 February now when we take on Norway at Windsor Park.”