New manager Michael O’Neill is relishing the challenge of improving the fortunes of Northern Ireland.
O’Neill was chosen ahead of Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie to replace the departed Nigel Worthington at Windsor Avenue and will begin work on February 1.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast today, the former Shamrock Rovers boss said: “I was up against two very good candidates and close friends but I was pleased with how the interview went and I was delighted when I was offered the job.
“It was a pleasant surprise but one I’m ready to take on at this stage in my career.
“When the vacancy was going to come up I suppose I was in the last few months of my contract at Shamrock Rovers.
“I felt if the opportunity came up and the job was available and I was fortunate enough to be offered it the time was right for me to take that chance.”
The 42-year-old acknowledges he has plenty of work ahead of him.
He inherits a side who failed to live up to modest expectations in their last campaign – which saw them finish fifth in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, ahead of only the Faroe Islands – and must also confront pressing issues of player availability and eligibility which caused problems for Worthington.
In the last couple of years Worthington 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 – who have lost a handful of highly-rated youngsters to the Football Association of Ireland.
O’Neill added: “There are many things I’ll have to deal with and problems to solve but I believe I have the experience and belief to do it.
“The process will take time and it’s about making small steps first – that can lead to progress for the national team and football in Northern Ireland in general.”