O’Neill named Northern Ireland manager

Former Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O’Neill has been appointed as the new Northern Ireland manager.

O’Neill, who earned 33 caps for his country as a player, edged out two other former internationals in Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie for the job and will start work with the Irish Football Association on February 1.

The 42-year-old resigned his post at Shamrock earlier this month after making them the first League of Ireland side to qualify for the group stages of a major European competition.

O’Neill’s predecessor Nigel Worthington announced his resignation on the eve of the final Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy in October, ending a disappointing campaign that saw the side finish fifth in the standings.

The IFA – led by president Jim Shaw and chief executive Patrick Nelson – duly set about seeking a replacement, eventually narrowing the field to O’Neill, Magilton and Dowie despite reported interest from a host of names including Gerry Armstrong, Avram Grant, Dave Jones and Brian Kerr.

O’Neill, whose other managerial job was at Brechin City, said, "I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country. 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."

Nelson said: "Michael was the stand out 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."

During his time with Shamrock, O’Neill won back-to-back League of Ireland titles and saw his stock rise even further when he guided his side to a Europa League play-off victory over Partizan Belgrade.

He had been strongly linked with the Hibernian job before Pat Fenlon was installed at Easter Road.

O’Neill’s reign will get under way with a Windsor Park friendly against Norway on February 29, with further friendlies already agreed with Holland and Finland before the World Cup 2014 campaign gets under way.

Northern Ireland have been drawn against Portugal, Russia, Azerbaijan, Israel and Luxembourg in their qualifying group.

Michael O’Neill factfile:

1969: July 5 – Born in Portadown, Northern Ireland.

1984: Begins playing career at Coleraine.

1987: Signs for Newcastle and ends his first season as the club’s top scorer.

1988: February 17 – Makes Northern Ireland debut at the age of 18 in a 3-2 defeat to Greece.

1989: April 26 – Scores first international goal in a World Cup qualifier against Malta.

1995: November 15 – Scores twice in a 5-3 win over Austria in Euro 96 qualifying, also hitting the post to miss out on a hat-trick.

1996: October 5 – Earns 33rd and final international cap as a replacement in Northern Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Armenia.

2001: After stints with a series of clubs in England and Scotland, moves briefly to the United States to play for the Portland Timbers.

2004: Ends playing career at Ayr United.

2006: Named as assistant manager under Mixu Paatelainen at Cowdenbeath.

April – Appointed as Brechin City boss.

2007: Leads Brechin to the Second Division play-offs.

2008: December – Agrees to join cash-strapped Shamrock Rovers, surprisingly guiding them to second place in League of Ireland.

2010: Wins the League of Ireland, ending Shamrock’s 16-year drought.

2011: August – Sees his Rovers side become the first ever League of Ireland side to qualify for the group stages of a top European competition after beating Partizan Belgrade 3-2 on aggregate in the Europa League play-offs.

October: Completes back-to-back title wins.

November: Describes the Northern Ireland job as "attractive" having previously appeared to rule himself out of the running to replace Nigel Worthington.

December 14: Confirms he will leave Shamrock after contract negotiations are unsuccessful.

December 19: Interviewed by the Irish Football Association for the vacant Northern Ireland job.

December 28: Confirmed by IFA as new Northern Ireland boss on a two-year contract.