Michael O’Neill returns for a second term as Northern Ireland boss

Michael O’Neill is back as Northern Ireland boss just over two and a half years after leaving the job for Stoke.

The 53-year-old has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract which will run until Euro 2028 – a tournament Northern Ireland hope to stage partly as part of a joint bid by the United Kingdom and of Ireland.

O’Neill’s return will have Northern Ireland aiming for a return to major tournaments themselves as he ended a 30-year wait during his previous stint by leading them to Euro 2016.

O’Neill revitalized the green and white army between 2012 and 2020, inheriting a team that had won two of its last 24 games but won 36% of its 72 games in charge – the best winning percentage of all the bosses of Northern Ireland. since the end of the great Billy Bingham’s first spell in 1971.

The race to the last 16 of the Euros six years ago was the obvious highlight, but Northern Ireland also reached the 2018 World Cup qualifying play-offs – denied by a controversial penalty against Switzerland – and also pushed Germany and the Netherlands into a brutal group in Euro 2020 qualifiers.

This prompted Stoke to come calling in November 2019. O’Neill initially combined his duties as he hoped to complete the job of reaching the Euros via the play-offs, but once the pandemic led to the postponement of those games, O’Neill made way for Ian Baraclough to move from the Under-21s in April 2020.

O’Neill avoided the threat of relegation to League One at Stoke but could not get them into the promotion fight as the club struggled to recruit, and he was sacked in August.

With Northern Ireland also struggling under Baraclough – who have lost 14 of their 28 games in charge and narrowly avoided back-to-back Nations League relegation – the stars lined up for O’Neill’s return when Baraclough was sacked in October.

Michael O’Neill led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 (Nick Potts/PA)

O’Neill must persuade veteran stars including captain Steven Davis, 37, and Jonny Evans, 34, to stay for one more campaign but a favorable Euro 2024 qualifying draw – against Denmark , Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino – providing the opportunity for him to have an immediate impact.

The returning manager said: “I am delighted to be Northern Ireland’s senior men’s manager.

“I’m excited to see what can be achieved with this group of players and I can’t wait to be in front of the Green and White Army again at the National Stadium.”

Irish FA chairman Conrad Kirkwood added: “I think Michael is the right person for the job. He comes to the role this time with the advantage of even more international and domestic experience, which will have only added to his skills and experience.

“With a positive Euro 2024 qualifying draw, I have no doubt that the Green and White Army will support him and his team.”

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