Michael O'Neill: NI players want manager to stay after World Cup heartache

NI manager Michael O'Neill consoles Oliver Norwood and Aaron Hughes after the 0-0 draw with Switzerland in Basel
NI manager Michael O'Neill consoles Oliver Norwood and Aaron Hughes after the 0-0 draw with Switzerland in Basel

Northern Ireland's players are hoping that the side's valiant display in Switzerland will persuade manager Michael O'Neill to remain at the helm.

NI drew 0-0 in the second leg of their World Cup play-off in Basel to lose 1-0 to the Swiss on aggregate.

O'Neill's contract runs until 2020 but he has been linked with Scotland, the United States, Sunderland and Rangers.

"We all want Michael to stay. We hope that our performance on Sunday shows that," said midfielder Oliver Norwood.

The Brighton player, on loan at Fulham added: "The message is loud and clear from the players and fans that we would like Michael to remain as we can achieve great things with this squad."

O'Neill would not be drawn on his future after his team came up just short in their World Cup play-off with the Swiss, when a dubious penalty decision in the first leg ended their hopes of reaching back-to-back major tournaments for the first time.

The 48-year-old is unlikely to be short of suitors but skipper Steven Davis is keen that Edinburgh-based O'Neill will stay in charge of his native country.

"Michael is integral to everything we have done and everyone loves working with him. From a selfish point of view we would love to continue this journey with him at the helm," the Southampton midfielder said.

"It's only natural that other parties are going to be interested in him because he has done so well."

Players ponder international futures

Veteran defender Aaron Hughes is one of a number of players who may be considering their international futures, along with centre-back Gareth McAuley and West Bromwich Albion team-mate Chris Brunt.

More than half of the line-up who took to the field in Basel were older than 30 but 24-year-old Millwall midfielder George Saville impressed on his first start, while Paddy McNair (22) is still returning to full fitness and Jordan Jones (23) is regarded as another bright prospect for the future.

"I want to go back and play for Hearts and then I'll see where my mind and my body's at," said 38-year-old Hughes, who is now the most capped defender among any of the home nations with 109 appearances.

"It's a commitment, if I have to make it, I have to be 100% sure. I'll take my time and think about it. There's no rush - I'll digest what has happened and take it from there.

"It's huge what Michael has done - everyone sees the results and the performances on the pitch but you also have to look at what he has done throughout the association [Irish Football Association] and the new players he is getting in.

"George [Saville] popped up from nowhere and he had a tremendous game. Michael would be a massive loss - he has turned the whole thing round and is a big part of why we were on the verge of qualifying for a World Cup."

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