Michael O’Neill: ‘Windsor Park improvements helped Northern Ireland’

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Michael O’Neill stood down as Northern Ireland boss on Wednesday.

Michael O’Neill thinks the redevelopment of Windsor Park played a key role in Northern Ireland‘s upturn in fortunes during his eight-and-a-half year spell in charge.

O’Neill, who was called Stoke boss in November, on Wednesday stepped down as manager of the Green and White Army after it emerged their Euro 2020 certifying play- offs– due to be his final games in charge– would not be played prior to October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It ended an extremely effective spell in charge, highlighted by certification for Euro 2016 however significant more broadly by consistency in results, with O’Neill’s win rate of 36 percent second just in Northern Ireland’ s history to Bertie Peacock’s 39 percent in between 1961 and 1964.

Windsor Park went through a major remodelling in between 2013 and 2016 (Niall Carson/PA)

After O’Neill was designated in late 2011, a major remodelling of Windsor Park happened in between 2013 and 2016, which O’Neill thinks helped alter his squad’s state of mind.

“I remember at the outset one or two senior players coming to me to talk about the pitch at Windsor Park,” O’Neill stated. “It was quite apparent they didn’t especially enjoy playing at home in Belfast at the time.

” That’s easy to understand since the ground, for international football, there was very little behind the dug-outs that might be utilized.

” There was a portable back up the top goal and essentially it was pieced together into what was functional. I do not think any of that situation with the arena helped the team or previous supervisors.

” I keep in mind the time when Portugal concerned play us and they didn’t have sufficient space to get their things into the dressing space.

Windsor Park seen prior to its redevelopment (Paul Faith/PA)

” Things like that I utilized to think would assist us however eventually our state of mind altered with the arena and the team grew and I think that was revealed with our efficiencies.

“If you look back there are not many games since the redevelopment of the stadium when the team played poorly and the players didn’t play with a tempo and an energy.”

While he waits on news on when Stoke’s Championship campaign may be able to resume, O’Neill can spend some time to assess his Northern Ireland reign.

However while he can select specific games as highlights– beating Greece to reach Euro 2016, drawing away to Portugal in 2012 or beating Russia in 2013– O’Neill pointed rather to the pride he helped bring back in playing for the Green and White Army.

Northern Ireland beat Greece to protect certification for Euro 2016 (Niall Carson/PA)

“Having the mindset of every time we took to the pitch, especially at home, we felt we could win,” he stated.

” We often needed to defend our lives however besides the last game (a 6-1 defeat to Germany in November) when we were under-strength, nobody cleaned the flooring with us.

” I take great pride in beating Azerbaijan 4-0 at home (in November 2016) and after that playing a friendly with Croatia. Jonny Evans went home since his other half was having their second kid however he flew back in on the Tuesday early morning to play in the friendly.

“That just wouldn’t have happened in the past and when you see that commitment, that’s when you know you were going in the right direction.”

Steven Davis, left, is surrounding Pat Jennings’ all-time record for Northern Ireland caps (Liam McBurney/PA)

With the manager gone and some key players nearing the end of their professions this might be the end of an age, however O’Neill anticipates the likes of Steven Davis, 35, and Evans, 32, to keep going for a while.

“I know Steven will play on and break Pat’s record,” he stated, with Davis 2 caps shy of Pat Jennings’ record of 119 caps for Northern Ireland.

” Jonny has aspirations to get 100 caps (the Leicester defender has 84) and more, and there will be others.

“The players still have an awful lot to play for. My biggest regret in my playing career was not getting more international caps.”

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