It’s a tough job being the manager of Northern Ireland. What is an already small pool of players has been diminished even further in recent years by the perfectly reasonable decision of players to choose to declare for the Republic.
Marc Wilson, Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy and James McClean are four of the most high profile players to have declared for the Republic in recent years. Recently young Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Liam McAlinden declined the opportunity to join the Northern Irish setup opting instead to declare for the Republic.
This has not stopped Michael O’Neill’s team from making great strides and punching above their weight in group F. Windsor Park is not the most welcoming of grounds for teams to visit and last night Portugal required their superstar Ronaldo to score a hattrick in the last half hour to rescue their night.
Loss for Portugal would have left them a point behind Russia, who lost by a Patterson goal when they visited Belfast, having played a game more. Shorned of first choice defenders O’Neill was force to play Chris Brunt at left back and his inexperience in the position was evident as he collected 2 yellow cards and his Northern Irish teammates were left to face the late assault with 10 men.
A tough job made even tougher by the lack of players available, the former Shamrock Rovers manager has shown himself to be an adept manager and certainly one to watch for the future.