NORTHERN IRELAND: O’Neill plays down Scotland speculation

O'Neill was quizzed on the rumours at his pre-match press conference ahead of his side's friendly against Croatia.  Picture by William Cherry/Press Eye.
O'Neill was quizzed on the rumours at his pre-match press conference ahead of his side's friendly against Croatia. Picture by William Cherry/Press Eye.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill says he ‘hasn’t given a second thought’ to reports linking him to the Scotland job.

Gordon Strachan is under ever-increasing pressure as manager and some pundits have suggested O’Neill would be perfect fit to become his successor.

As his Northern Ireland side prepare to host Croatia in tomorrow (Tuesday)’s friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park (kick-off 7.45pm), should the Green and White Army be concerned that O’Neill is bound for the Tartan Army?

“No, I don’t think so,” said the Edinburgh-based manager. “Listen, first of all, there’s someone in that job who I have a huge amount of respect for, who I played under.

“The fact that I live in Scotland is probably a bigger factor of that than anything else. I haven’t given a second thought to that at all and I’d rather not comment on that situation at the minute to be fair.”

O’Neill did, however, neglect to confirm that he would be the Northern Ireland manager for the duration of the current World Cup qualifying campaign and for the finals, should Northern Ireland earn a spot in Russia.

He said: “Am I committed? I’m sitting here now, I’ve been out there preparing the team. I’ll be here for Norway (but) Russia’s nearly 18 months away - let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“Let’s continue to do the job that we’re doing and make sure the team is as well prepared as possible.”

O’Neill’s assistant coach Austin MacPhee has also been linked with a move away - to the vacant Performance Director’s role at the Scottish FA.

The manager conceded he may have a fight on his hands to retain the services of MacPhee and Assistant Manager Jimmy Nicholl.

“If people do well, you want them to progress,” he said.

“Austin’s been a great addition to our backroom staff, as has Jimmy. That goes through them all. When you look at our sport science team, I think they do things very well in relation to the players.

“You can’t just keep people and not expect them to grow. Their careers might flourish but what’s down the line is not something I give a lot of thought to. You can’t plan for that. Football’s about the here and now and that’s where our focus is.

“We don’t have a huge staff. We’ve got 11 - some countries are carrying 20 staff. The strong relationship between the backroom staff and the players; you can see that and I think that’s a very positive thing.”