Michael O'Neill shares concerns about allegiance changes

He also discusses how his team have picked up where they left off from Euro 2016 into the World Cup qualifiers

Northern Ireland, Michael O'Neill, Euro 2016, World Cup

Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill ©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

At the halfway point of UEFA's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland are on course for a playoff place.

In Group C, they find themselves five points off group favourites and reigning World Cup winners Germany but the Euro 2016 last 16 performers are in the playoff spot ahead of Czech Republic, Azerbaijan and Norway, the latter of whom Northern Ireland beat 2-0 at Windsor Park on Sunday.

Northern Ireland's appearance at Euro 2016 was their first at a major tournament for 30 years and also meant the squad were together for much longer than usual like the teams that do regularly qualify for European Championships and World Cups. 

Manager Michael O'Neill feels the fact that his squad were able to spend so much time together at Euro 2016 has had a positive knock on effect on their 2018 World Cup qualifying showings. 

"What we did have was the benefit of being together for that period of time at the Euros in preparation and we'd never had that before. You get sporadic bursts of nine and 10 days over qualification campaigns," O'Neill told Off The Ball.

"But basically at the Euros, between preparation and tournament, we were together for the best part of nearly 40 days so how the group developed personally but also in terms of the work we were able to do for all of those games and the players obviously believing that they could handle that level of opposition and those types of atmospheres were hugely beneficial."

He also revealed that before their first World Cup qualifier in Czech Republic, which finished 0-0, O'Neill and his staff took the players back to the Austrian training camp that they had used prior to Euro 2016, as a "little bit of a reminder of where we did all our good work".

Looking back at Euro 2016 where they were knocked out by eventual semi finalists Wales, O'Neill felt they were a little unfortunate to exit the tournament after such a closely fought battle.

And on the question of style, O'Neill feels it would be unrealistic for the North, Republic of Ireland and Wales to become possession centric teams like the major nations like Spain and Germany.

The Northern Ireland boss also shared his concerns about the issue of players switching allegiances from the North to the Republic after spending time at underage level within the ranks of the former association.

"It was about young players really changing their international allegiances between the ages of 17-21. I don't think it's particularly fair of another association to ask a player to do that because you don't know where your career is at that minute," he said, feeling that players should be allowed to develop first before having to make that call.

"I just think a young player, once he's represented a country whether it's Northern Ireland or whoever, they should be allowed to play for that country and be left alone to play for that country until they're past the age of 21 when their career will have developed. 

"We have seen a lot of players leave us to go to the Republic of Ireland and they have never come close to being in the senior squad, they've never come close to winning a senior cap. But they're lost to us by the fact that they maybe played for us for three or four years at underage level."