Euro 2016 and Dutch drama – Michael O’Neill’s first spell with Northern Ireland

Michael O’Neill’s return as Northern Ireland manager will have the Green and White Army dreaming of qualifying for another major tournament.

The 53-year-old ended a 30-year wait when he led them to the last 16 of Euro 2016, the defining achievement of his first spell in charge.

In just over eight years, O’Neill won 36 per cent of his 72 games, the highest winning percentage of any Northern Ireland boss since the great Billy Bingham’s first reign ended in 1971.

Here, the PA news agency looks at his record in charge.

Michael O'Neill in January 2012 celebrating his first spell as Northern Ireland manager

Slow start

Given how good things got, it was easy to forget how slowly it all started. It took O’Neill 10 games and 18 months to record his first win in charge, though it was a fine one when it came as Northern Ireland beat Fabio Capello’s Russia 1-0 at Windsor Park in August 2013. Martin Paterson got the goal and had another disallowed for offside after Jamie Ward had hit a post. But O’Neill had not cracked it yet, and the bubble was soon burst by a 3-2 loss to Luxembourg just a month later. The match proved a turning point as O’Neill made clear his disgust at a “pathetic” performance, challenging his players to ensure it never happened again.

Run to the Euros

The sign that things might be different this time around came early in the qualifying campaign away to Hungary. Northern Ireland, without an away win in four years, trailed to Tamas Priskin’s goal with nine minutes left after wasting a string of chances. But Kyle Lafferty burst forward to tee up Niall McGinn for the equaliser before the pair reversed roles in the 88th minute, McGinn providing the assist as Lafferty secured three points that set Northern Ireland on their way to Euro 2016. Progress was secured on one of the most famous nights at Windsor Park – a 3-1 win over Greece in September 2015 – and fans could starting booking their trips to France.

2016 and all that

Northern Ireland opened with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Poland as Arkadiusz Milik struck the only goal – with O’Neill’s side defending resolutely but failing to have a single shot on target. But in the second game, goals from Gareth McAuley and McGinn gave them a 2-0 win over Ukraine, their first major tournament victory in 34 years. Although they lost their final group game 1-0 to Germany, Northern Ireland had done enough to progress to the last 16, where they lost 1-0 to Wales due to McAuley’s 75th-minute own goal. Even so, Northern Ireland returned home with their heads held high.

Heartache

Having enjoyed a taste of the high life, Northern Ireland were desperate for more, but it would not come. Qualification for the 2018 World Cup ended in controversy and frustration in a play-off against Switzerland. Northern Ireland were second best in the first leg at Windsor Park, but after referee Ovidiu Hategan’s bizarre decision to award a penalty for a handball by Corry Evans that never was, Ricardo Rodriguez scored what proved to be the only goal over the 180 minutes. The next campaign saw Northern Ireland come within minutes of a 2-1 win away to the Netherlands, only to lose 3-2 in Rotterdam, settling for a play-off place they could not capitalise on after O’Neill’s reign ended in a goalless home draw against the Dutch.