Euro 2020 qualifiers: Leaving NI before end of campaign 'never an option' - Michael O'Neill

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'Not taking charge of NI in qualifiers would have been wrong' - Michael O'Neill
Euro 2020 qualifier: Northern Ireland v Netherlands
Venue: Windsor Park Date: Saturday, 16 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster and the BBC Sport website; Text commentary on BBC Sport website; Highlights on BBC One NI at 22:20 GMT

Michael O'Neill has said he told Stoke City at the outset of their talks that he would not consider leaving Northern Ireland immediately.

The NI boss took over at Stoke last week but will remain in his international role until the end of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

NI are at home to the Netherlands on Saturday before their last Group C game away to Germany three days later.

"Leaving before these two games was not an option," O'Neill explained.

"That would not have been the right thing to do and I was clear with Stoke about that from the start."

While taking the NI side for the Dutch and German games was always O'Neill's intention, he revealed it was the Irish FA that requested he remains in charge for any potential play-off matches in March.

Michael O'Neill and Steven Davis
O'Neill's captain Steven Davis will become the UK's most capped midfielder of all-time as he prepares to make his 116th appearance against the Dutch

"During the negotiations it then became clear that there was a possibility of me taking the play-off - I think the IFA requested that," continued O'Neill, who won his first game in charge of Stoke against Barnsley last week.

"The reality of the situation is that I will have five months of club football behind me before I take that game.

"The play-off will be a quick turnaround - it's a Thursday game which will mean three days of preparation.

"I have proved that I am quite adept at doing that, and it would have been very difficult for a new manager to go straight into a play-off scenario.

"Hopefully, if that situation does arrive, and we don't qualify through these next two games, then we will be in a healthy position and ready to give it our best in March to qualify."

'It will be sad when I reflect on it'

Northern Ireland are currently third in Group C, three points behind the Dutch leaders after winning their first four games and losing their last two outings.

Saturday night's match is likely to be O'Neill's last in charge of NI at Belfast's Windsor Park and, while saying he is "not a big one for emotion", he admitted that he will miss leading the side at the stadium.

"I will probably reflect on the game more afterwards. The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind and I haven't had to time to think about it," O'Neill said.

"It will be sad because it has been great at Windsor, particularly since the stadium was redeveloped. The backing we have had from the fans has been fantastic and there is no doubt that has helped the team.

"When I first took the Northern Ireland job, a number of players talked about how they didn't particular enjoy playing here - the stadium was old and the pitch was heavy.

"Now they love playing here and love the atmosphere. That is a big thing for me as a manager, particularly for the young players coming into the squad."

NI's training session at Windsor on Friday was delayed because of traffic
NI's training session at Windsor on Friday was delayed because of traffic

'We want to take it to the last game'

While O'Neill led NI to the Euro 2016 finals in France, he has yet to claim the scalp of one of the major nations and admitted this is something he would like to address.

His team took a 76th-minute lead against the Dutch in Rotterdam last month before losing 3-1, but the former Shamrock Rovers boss said they can take positives from the performance.

"Northern Ireland have beaten England and Spain in the past and they were great nights, but they ultimately didn't really lead to anything," O'Neill added.

"We would certainly like to beat a big nation and get a win over someone like the Netherlands on the CV, but the main thing is to win the match and take the qualification process to the final game.

"We have watched the match in Rotterdam back on the video and they really didn't create many changes at all.

Frenkie De Jong was excellent and for them - I think in the next 12-18 months we will be talking about him as the best midfielder in the world."