Miracle maker Michael O'Neill continues to propel Northern Ireland to new heights

by Andy Dillon / 29 March 2016, 15:58

Michael O'NeillMichael O'Neill's soaring reputation in the managerial arena was propelled to new heights on Monday after his in-form Northern Ireland troops stormed into the record books following a 1-0 win against Slovenia, which extended the country's unbeaten run to a whopping 10 matches - the longest undefeated streak in their history.

The Sun's Andy Dillon (andydillon70) is certainly an admirer of the affable 46-year-old, and here's why:

MICHAEL O'NEILL has a brand new four-year contract waiting to kick in after Euro 2016.

But don't expect Northern Ireland's manager to see it out.

The 750,000 get-out clause embedded in that deal with the IFA is already looking extremely tantalising for clubs on the mainland.

O'Neill, who lives in Edinburgh, is an accountant by trade and naturally knows where to set the figures so that he can get the best out of the deal.

Right now it is hard to think of any manager who would prove better value for money than O'Neill.

Celtic know it and a clutch of English Championship clubs are aware of it too.

At 46 he is young for a boss and yet he has made his Northern Ireland team the talk of the British Isles.

Monday's 1-0 win over Slovenia made it ten games unbeaten for the Green Army. Six of those were qualifiers for Euro 2016.

For teams like Northern Ireland, qualifying for a major tournament is not the procession it is for giants of the game like England.

Yet they won their group which included Romania and Hungary, teams with a far better pedigree than O'Neill's mixed bag from the English and Scottish Premier Leagues and the lower divisions of the Football League.

From Manchester United's reserves to Fleetwood Town and from Down Under, Northern Ireland's squad comes together in every sense every international break.

Ten games unbeaten is a record - eclipsing that set by O'Neill's legendary predecessor Billy Bingham twice in the 1980s. He has already written himself into the history books.

O'Neill's honest appraisal of his squad's qualities and man-management are key to the run of success which is putting one of UEFA's smallest nations back in the big time.

Former Fulham defender Aaron Hughes was tempted out of international retirement to play for him at the age of 30.

He plays in Australia and is currently on a 24 hour flight to rejoin Melbourne City after a grand total of 54 minutes' action in two friendlies since Thursday.

Hughes is now the most capped outfield player ever for his country, just two short of a ton of caps and hungrier than ever to serve his boss and his homeland.

What does that tell you about O'Neill's knack of getting the best out of his players?

Conor Washington can't get a game for QPR but goes and scores a matchwinner on his home debut at Windsor Park on Monday against Slovenia.

Roy Carroll is out of the frame at League Two strugglers Notts County - yet he saves a penalty for Northern Ireland this week.

O'Neill can turn his rag tag bunch into not quite world beaters but certainly into a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

When you sit up close to him, there are faint similarities to Alex Ferguson in his looks, particularly around the construction of his eyes and nose.

He played much of his football in Scotland and as such his accent is slightly skewed north and the voice is that firm, quiet tone which delivers calm authority.

You get the impression O'Neill, like Fergie, knows what he is doing and is fully in control.

Playing to his strengths he admits he will have to have a set game plan to take on Germany in the final group game in France and cannot budge from it.

The 3-5-2 formation he is experimenting with will strengthen the defence which will be sorely needed against the world champions.

Motivationally and tactically O'Neill will get the best out of Northern Ireland over the next few months and then don't be surprised if he is hoovered up by a club side.

Northern Ireland has a habit of producing football gems every so often and the latest one could be a manager.

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