Reward over risk as Michael O'Neill 'not after a statue' with Northern Ireland

Michael O’Neill has dismissed any risk to his Northern Ireland legacy by declaring “I’m not after a statue” following a celebrated return to the international hot-seat.

Having resigned from the Northern Ireland post in 2020 to focus on club football at Stoke City, after a run which included the landmark EURO 2016 appearance, O’Neill this week put pen to paper on a long-term Irish Football Association deal with a firm goal of adding to his proud international record.

His return has been met by widespread approval within the Green And White Army fanbase but O’Neill made clear on the first day of his second spell as Northern Ireland boss that he is looking forward not back.

"I'm not after a statue,” said O’Neill. "I look at the people who have managed Northern Ireland and there hasn't been an awful lot and it brings it home the significance of the job.

Michael O'Neill is back for a second spell as Northern Ireland manager

"I'm just delighted to get the chance again...72 games in my first spell was a good innings and if I can do anything and be here long enough to challenge the number of games Billy Bingham managed (118) then I'll be delighted as it would suggest I've done a good job.

"Where Steven (Davis) had in his head going to beat Pat Jennings' record then that would be something in the back of my mind.

"It is a special job.

"It was something that, had I passed over at this point in time, then maybe in the future I would regret."

O’Neill enters preparations for the EURO 2024 qualifying schedule against Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino relishing the challenge of bringing Northern Ireland back on to the big stage.

When asked did he have faith he could guide Northern Ireland to another tournament, O’Neill offered a clear “I do” in response.

“What we have to make sure is that they (the players) are focused and they believe because that will be the big thing,” he said. "Sometimes players are injured and you can’t do anything about that but if you have that availability and conviction from the players then you can challenge in any campaign.”

He continued, ahead of a first qualifier in March: "We have to hit the ground running - any campaign is the same...and the message is always the same to the players.”