Pride the primary focus for O'Neill

New Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill made restoring a sense of pride in the shirt his first objective after agreeing a two-year contract to replace Nigel Worthington.

New Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill made restoring a sense of pride in the shirt his first objective after agreeing a two-year contract to replace Nigel Worthington.

The Irish Football Association confirmed the 42-year-old would take charge of their World Cup 2014 campaign yesterday afternoon, with O’Neill beating his former Shamrock Rovers assistant Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie in the final reckoning.

All three had been interviewed by a panel led by IFA president Jim Shaw and chief executive Patrick Nelson, with O’Neill earning their vote before being ratified by the Windsor Avenue board.

Two key issues the panel were looking to address in the process involved availability and eligibility of players, both of which caused Worthington – who announced his resignation in October after four and a half years in the post - serious headaches.

The former Norwich boss was forced to deal with frequent squad withdrawals and injury absences, while the issue of Northern Ireland-born players pledging their footballing allegiance to the Republic of Ireland became an increasingly thorny problem for the IFA.

“I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country,” said O’Neill, who is thought to be earning around half the £450,000 (€538,000) annual salary earned by Worthington.

“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.”

Reflecting on the appointment, Nelson added: “Michael was the standout 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.”

O’Neill, who left his post at Tallaght Stadium earlier this month, arrived at Rovers after a stint in Scotland with Brechin City and won back-to-back League of Ireland titles.

He also guided his side to the group phase of the Europa League with a play-off win over Partizan Belgrade – the first League of Ireland side to do so.

His reign will get under way with a friendly against Norway at Windsor Park on February 29, with his competitive bow coming in a tough away trip to Russia on September 7.

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