Michael O’Neill: Chris Brunt says NI return could be difficult for former boss

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Chris Brunt and Michael O'Neill celebrate after Northern Ireland's 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in the World Cup qualifier in September 2017
Brunt believes it might prove difficult for O’Neill to achieve success with the current Northern Ireland squad

Michael O’Neill could find returning for a second spell as Northern Ireland manager difficult, former international Chris Brunt has said.

O’Neill, who led his country to the Euro 2016 finals during a nine-year spell in charge, has been widely tipped to replace Ian Baraclough as boss.

Baraclough was sacked by the Irish FA on Friday after winning seven and losing 14 of his 28-game reign.

“It’s hard to go back, isn’t it, if you are Michael O’Neill?” Brunt said.

“He did such a good job the last time, we were so successful as a team, as a group of players and as a staff – and obviously all the fans as well.

“I think it would be difficult for him to recreate that with the current squad. There are a lot of young lads in there, and a lot of the more senior ones are probably coming towards the end of it.

“It would be a difficult task for Michael to go back in and have that success straight away, but obviously it would be up to him if he wanted to go back and do that. It was quite a good period of time.”

Grant McCann and David Healy during Northern Ireland training in 2010
Brunt believes former Northern Ireland international team-mates Grant McCann and David Healy should be considered for the vacant manager’s post

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time, the former West Brom midfielder added: “My heart says Michael O’Neill [should be the next NI manager] just based on his previous experiences, but I think to go back again, for Michael, might not be where he wants to be in his career.”

While O’Neill appears to be the favourite for many Northern Ireland supporters, a number of other managers are expected to be in the frame when the IFA are choosing Baraclough’s replacement.

Neil Lennon, Stephen Robinson, David Healy, Grant McCann and Tommy Wright are among the names that have been linked with the job.

Brunt, who was a regular under O’Neill but missed out on the Euros in France because of a knee injury, said he thinks one of the younger managers – such as Linfield boss Healy or Peterborough United’s McCann – deserve the opportunity.

“I think anybody on the list of names has a claim for it,” he continued.

“They all played for their country, are all proud people from Northern Ireland who represented their country. Somebody from home who has represented the country might be a good choice given the grumblings from the fans over the last few months.

“Give somebody else a crack at it that hasn’t done it. David Healy, Grant McCann, someone like that, younger managers that would be hungry and really really proud to represent Northern Ireland.

“I’ll be getting behind either of those two if that was the case, even Stephen Robinson as well, he has done a great job at St Mirren. Anyone, really, because they all deserve a fair shot at it.”



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