NEW Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill is targeting a top four finish for the Hoops next season.
Speaking at his official unveiling in a hotel just across the road from Rovers’ new ground in Tallaght, the 39-year-old former international for the north yesterday outlined his ambitions for the club.
"There was a huge points differential between the team that won the league and ourselves last season and we have to strive to get closer, to get into the positions that qualify you for the Setanta Cup or European football," he said. "I’m here for three years and certainly the target in that time has to be to bring some silverware back to this club."
The full-time successor to Pat Scully was highly-rated as the manager of Scottish League Division 2 side Brechin City and he admitted that there were "a few raised eyebrows" in Scotland about his decision to move to Dublin: "But those would have been from people who don’t understand the size of the job here," he said. "I genuinely feel that this is a job that is on a par with, if not on a bigger scale than, anything that I would have been offered in Scotland on a full-time basis."
O’ Neill said that while the move was also an attractive one for his family — he is married with two young children — he did feel obliged to give serious consideration to the many problems affecting the League of Ireland before deciding to take up the Rovers post.
"It would have been ignorant of me if I didn’t consider that," he said. "I know there are problems in the league. But there are problems in the car industry, in financial services, in everything.
"Football isn’t going to be exempt from that but, while it is a concern, typically football has a habit of surviving through the dark times. I would envisage that there will be a slight re-correction in the league financially which, long-term, might be to the benefit of the league.
"But my main concern was the financial situation at Shamrock Rovers and I had a lot of comfort from the chairman and the rest of the committee that the club was in a good financial position to progress. It’s not like I’m being given a job where there’s a huge cost-cutting exercise."
Arguing that the basis of the squad is already in place, O’Neill suggested that he might look to bring in no more than four of five new players. And citing Gordon Strachan as his major managerial influence, the former Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibs and Coventry City midfielder said that he will want his team to play fearless, attractive football of the kind that will make the community buy into the project and make it an enjoyable evening for fans to visit the new stadium when it finally opens next year.
"Obviously, it’s an exciting time for the club with a move to Tallaght on the horizon," he said. "After 21 years leading a nomadic existence, it’s an important moment for the club.
"But most of all I’m looking forward to getting down to work with the players and re-establishing Rovers as the top club in the League of Ireland."