Northern Ireland supporters’ chief Gary McAllister has called for the Green and White Army to throw their support behind new national boss Michael O’Neill.
The former Shamrock Rovers boss was confirmed as Nigel Worthington’s successor by the Irish Football Association yesterday, beating Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie to the job, and will start work on February 1.
Worthington’s four-and-a-half-year reign ended in disappointment with a fifth-placed finish in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, while a record of one win in their last 13 fixtures – a home success against the Faroe Islands – made for grim reading.
The former Norwich boss was subjected to some fierce criticism from the stands in his last few matches at the helm, with sections of the fans regularly calling for his sacking.
Now McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, wants everybody to get behind the new appointment.
“I think the relationship with the manager over the last year was at a very low ebb, but we need to look forward not keep looking back,” McAllister said.
“As fans we’ve not had too much to celebrate in the last year but now is time to look forward. We all need to get behind Michael O’Neill.
“A new manager can create a new dawn, if you will. There’s always a little sparkle and people are hopeful that it can lead to something good or a repeat of past glories.
“We have to realise we have lost a lot of players and we’re entering a period of transition with a new manager but hopefully it can be successful.
“The main thing is he needs to be given time.”
O’Neill performed admirably in his time at Rovers, winning back-to-back League of Ireland titles and creating history by leading the club into the group stages of the Europa League, but his CV lacks the top job in England or Scotland that many felt would be a necessary requirement.
Dowie’s Barclays Premier League experience and Magilton’s time at Ipswich and QPR gave them the edge in that regard, but the IFA were won over by O’Neill’s interview.
“The IFA have not always gone for the front-runner and on a couple of occasions they’ve surprised us all with their choice but we shouldn’t be focusing on who didn’t get the job,” said McAllister.
“Maybe some people will say there were some more high-profile candidates but, by the end of his reign, we hope Michael O’Neill’s profile will be just as high as any of them.
“He’s a young manager, in the early stages of his career but he has a desire and an appetite. He had some tremendous times with Shamrock Rovers and to get them into the group stages of the Europa League was a great achievement. We hope he can bring his enthusiasm and passion to the job and be a success.”
One of the most pressing issues facing the IFA at present is the drain of young talent to the Football Association of Ireland, with a handful of players pledging their allegiance to the Republic of Ireland after representing Northern Ireland at age group levels.
McAllister believes O’Neill must make the issue one of his priorities but insists it is something everyone connected with the side can assist it.
“The manager, along with the elite player mentor Gerry Armstrong, are important in addressing this because they are the figureheads,” he said.
“But we all have a role to play because this is huge for Northern Ireland. There are things the IFA can do, things that we as fans can do to make Windsor Park welcoming and make people proud and there are things the manager can do as well.
“It’s from the grass roots up and it’s about feeling a loyalty for the Northern Ireland team.”