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Michael O'Neill takes long term view with Northern Ireland

Updated: Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013 07:55 | Comments

Michael O'Neill looks set to be offered a new contract by the IFA
Michael O'Neill looks set to be offered a new contract by the IFA

Michael O'Neill is ready to accept the challenge of taking a struggling Northern Ireland forward, but has warned that there is plenty of hard work ahead if the country is to compete again on the world stage.

O'Neill's first campaign as an international manager concludes on Tuesday night with a match in Israel and a chance to banish memories of recent defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

Whether or not he succeeds is unlikely to deter the Irish Football Association from offering him a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the year, with the suits at Windsor Avenue apparently content that O'Neill is overseeing a transitional period.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss is ready to continue the task, but has warned there is plenty still to be done.

"If I look at other countries around the world I would say it's about a 25-year job if I'm honest," he said with a smile.

"I know the fans will feel the disappointment the way I do and the way the players do but hopefully they've seen some green shoots through the campaign and can see that this is a team that can develop into one that will give them more big nights like (the win over) Russia and more chance of qualifying in the future.

"(But) we have to put a structure in place that allows us to develop international teams because I think it's fair to say we don't have that at this minute in time."

O'Neill's verdict on the challenges still ahead is a daunting one, but if they are left untackled he feels Northern Ireland will only fall further behind.

"The job is not just about 10 qualifying matches. I think there are international managers who do it on that basis, but I certainly haven't done it like that," he said.

"I think people sometimes overlook the size of the country we are, the number of players we have to choose from. What people perceive as 'minnows' is sometimes down to a lack of knowledge about international football.

"We've just come from a country like Azerbaijan, which people perceive as a minnow, but when you look at their facilities and the level of investment in football, you think we need to produce more players; simple as that.

"Looking at players who have come in to the squad in this campaign - Shane Ferguson and Danny Lafferty are the only homegrown players - the rest have come through eligibility.

"That's something as an association and as a country we need to address pretty dramatically.

"You would hope one or two younger players or one or two more through eligibility would come forward but in terms of having a pipeline of talent coming through that's not the case at this moment."

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