Northern Ireland appoint O'Neill
Former Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill has been appointed as the new Northern Ireland manager.
O'Neill, who earned 33 caps for his country as a player, edged out two other former internationals in Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie for the job, and will start work with the Irish Football Association (IFA) on 1 February. The 42-year-old resigned his post at Shamrock earlier this month after making them the first League of Ireland side to qualify for the group stages of a major European competition.
O'Neill's predecessor Nigel Worthington announced his resignation on the eve of the final UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against Italy in October, ending a disappointing campaign that saw them finish fifth in the standings.
The IFA - led by president Jim Shaw and chief executive Patrick Nelson - duly set about seeking a replacement, eventually narrowing the field to O'Neill, Magilton and Dowie despite reported interest from a host of names including Gerry Armstrong, Avram Grant, Dave Jones and Brian Kerr.
O'Neill, whose other managerial job was at Brechin City, 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."
Nelson said: "Michael was 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."
During his time with Shamrock, O'Neill won back-to-back League of Ireland titles and saw his stock rise even further when he guided his side to a UEFA Europa League play-off victory over Partizan. He had been strongly linked with the Hibernian job before Pat Fenlon was installed at Easter Road.
O'Neill's reign will get under way with a Windsor Park game against Norway on 29 February, with further friendlies already agreed with the Netherlands and Finland before their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaign gets underway. Northern Ireland have been drawn against Portugal, Russia, Azerbaijan, Israel and Luxembourg in their group.