Midfielder wants manager to continue after World Cup failure
OLIVER NORWOOD pleaded with manager Michael O’Neill to stay on with Northern Ireland yesterday after they were cruelly knocked out of the World Cup qualifiers on Sunday night.
O’Neill said he would consider his future after his team came up just short against Switzerland, when a dubious penalty decision in the first leg ended their hopes of reaching back-to-back major tournaments for the first time in the country’s history.
It felt like the end of an era in Basel on Sunday, where at least four veteran players — Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Jamie Ward — may have pulled on the green jersey for the final time.
They were among the first O’Neill consoled at full-time, though his own time with Northern Ireland may have reached its conclusion three years before his contract runs out.
The 48-year-old is unlikely to be short of suitors. The Edinburgh-based boss fits the bill for Scotland, while vacancies with Sunderland and the United States, where O’Neill spent part of his playing career, may also be alluring.
However, 26-year-old Norwood is banking on O’Neill being convinced that there is still more to come after Northern Ireland’s performance at St Jakob Park.
“We spoke about making Northern Ireland proud and I think we did that,” said the midfielder, on loan at Fulham from Brighton.
“We are devastated as a squad, but I hope we stick together. We will stick together as it’s a great bunch of lads and it is a pleasure to play for Northern Ireland.
“Hopefully, all the players will remain available for one more campaign.
“Obviously, we all want Michael to stay. We hope that our performance on Sunday night [showed we] would want him to remain in charge.
“The message is loud and clear from the players and fans that we would like Michael to stay as we can achieve great things with this squad.
“We have some good young players coming through and we have players with a lot of experience as well.”
O’Neill will not be rushed into determining what happens next, though no amount of time will likely remove the feeling of injustice at the manner in which Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream died.
Referee Ovidiu Hategan will forever be remembered by the Northern Irish as the man who somehow thought Corry Evans was guilty of deliberate handball at Windsor Park.
And so while O’Neill expressed pride at a battling performance in Basel three days later, it was what happened in Belfast that rankles.
“As a coach or a manager, you can’t really ask any more than what we got,” he said.