BBC BLOGS - Joel Taggart

O'Neill needs time to revive Northern Ireland

Joel Taggart | 15:55 UK time, Wednesday, 4 January 2012

So Michael O'Neill's vision for the future was the reason he got the nod over Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie for the Northern Ireland job.

Neither Irish FA president Jim Shaw nor chief executive Patrick Nelson shared at the media conference what that vision actually was, but I think in fairness to both men they know what is fantasy and what is achievable.

Michael is an intelligent man who is thorough in his preparations.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill will need to be given time as manager of Northern Ireland

When you speak to people who have encountered him as a player, coach, manager or just a person, they usually have only positive things to say.

His playing career should earn him respect and his recent success with Shamrock Rovers saw his managerial star rise at just the right time.

But, like Shaw and Nelson, Michael is a realist. He is well aware of the massive challenge that is ahead.

Managers can do everything in their power to help prepare a team and make sure circumstances are right, but they can't win you football matches. Players do that, and that will be Michael's biggest problem.

Players, good ones, are in short supply when it comes to the international team.

Then you have some players who are good, but leave themselves vulnerable to questions regarding their commitment in recent times.

Few things have worried me more than an interview I recorded with Maik Taylor in Italy following Nigel Worthington's resignation.

He spoke of a resentment within the squad, of players who were turning up for games regularly unhappy with others who didn't seem to care.

His disappointment didn't mask the anger. Here was a senior pro and former captain, who simply could not fathom why another generation seemingly regard playing international football as, at best, an inconvenience. Changing attitudes will be just as challenging as scoring goals.

With this in mind, I hope the Windsor Park employers are not expecting to qualify for the World Cup qualifiers in 2014, let's forget that right now.

Michael should be judged on progress over the next two years, not the group table.

Progress in terms of results yes, but progress in terms of how we can best develop our elite young players, how we then keep them from the clutches of the FAI and how we persuade others that the grass is not always greener.

Transition is not easy, just ask Andre Villas Boas.

During the last campaign Aaron Hughes, Stephen Craigan and George McCartney all retired. The hanging up of Maik Taylor's gloves cannot be far away. Grant McCann, Warren Feeney, David Healy and Gareth McAuley, four of the most commited to the cause, are all the wrong side of 30.

I would like to think Michael has built up plenty of credit as a player to ensure the fans give him time to oversee the changes required. Time is something he will need if we are all to catch a glimpse of that vision.

No stopping Linfield's surge to 50th title

Joel Taggart | 14:37 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

Whisper it around the corridors of Windsor Park, but the league title is done and dusted.

David Jeffrey will no doubt tell me I am 'talking tripe' next time I see him, but after Tuesday's Big Two victory for the Blues, the fat lady is clearing her throat and picking her favourite song.

Linfield are on course to lift a record 50th Irish League championship

Managers of those teams in the chasing pack have to say the right thing, go through the motions to appease the faithful that they will keep pressing until the end of the season in the hope that Linfield may slip up. But privately they probably all have that resigned feeling, they know they are playing for second place.

Let's be honest, Glentoran are not capable of picking up nine points more than Linfield in the 15 games that remain and the others are too far behind and have not shown the levels of consistancy required.

Read the rest of this entry

Ports prove Euro success is possible

Joel Taggart | 14:23 UK time, Friday, 9 July 2010

I don't mind admitting I was more than a little surprised on Thursday night when I got a text message from Paul Kirk telling me Portadown had won the second leg of their Europa League qualifying tie in Latvia.

For so long we have been used to Irish League teams going through the motions of fulfilling European fixtures and hoping to make a few quid along the way - if they didn't have a nightmare trip to pay for.

Portadown celebrated Europa League success against Skonto Riga

As a result, the whole question of whether qualification for Uefa competitions was actually a benefit to Irish League teams raised its head - with different answers depending on who you happened to ask.

We all know the history. Uefa want to save the latter stages of the competitions for the big teams with the big players and the qualifying rounds are effectively a token gesture at weeding out the clubs from the smaller nations and throwing them some Swiss Francs to appease them.

That means the days of Linfield being stoppage time minutes away from a trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan are a thing of the past.

Or what about the Glentoran team that lost out to Benfica on away goals in 1967-68? A Benfica team that went on to contest the European Cup final at Wembley that same year.

Instead, we have become used to our sides losing to teams from Scandinavia or clubs from far flung corners of Eastern Europe with names that would earn you an impressive Scrabble score.

That is why the exploits of Portadown this week have been so refreshing and surprising.

Totally unexpected, barely back into pre-season, Ronnie McFall's Irish Cup runners-up, minus a number of key players, managed a home draw and an away win to book themselves a trip to Azerbaijan in the next round.

They will do well financially from it and they have given Irish League fans hope that with a little bit of belief, the right attitude and the luck of the draw, it is possible to win in Europe.


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