Ex­tremely cruel to lose out like this – O’Neill

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL -

SWITZER­LAND 0 NORTH­ERN IRE­LAND 0 WORLD CUP QUAL­I­FIER 2ND LEG SWITZER­LAND WIN 1- 0 ON AG­GRE­GATE

MAN­AGER Michael O’Neill was un­will­ing to dis­cuss either his fu­ture or that of his vet­eran North­ern Ire­land play­ers hav­ing seen the coun­try’s hopes of reach­ing a first World Cup in 32 years ex­tin­guished.

The North­ern Ir­ish valiantly fell short in their play-off with Switzer­land, though ul­ti­mately not be­cause of what hap­pened in this draw in Basel, but due to a con­tentious penalty de­ci­sion three days ear­lier that may haunt some of his team for­ever.

Ref­eree Ovidiu Hate­gan dumb­founded them when he ad­judged Corry Evans to have han­dled and gave a penalty that Ri­cardo Ro­driguez scored – the only goal across the two legs.

It may have ended one of the most suc­cess­ful pe­ri­ods in North­ern Ire­land’s his­tory, with play­ers such as Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAu­ley and Chris Brunt now per­haps bound for in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment, and O’Neill maybe con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive jobs too.

How­ever, in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math he gave short shrift when asked if he had thought about his fu­ture amid sug­ges­tions Scot­land and Sun­der­land see him as the man for them.

“No, I haven’t even con­sid­ered that (the fu­ture),” he said. “(Last night) is about be­ing with my play­ers, spend­ing time with them and mak­ing sure they are okay.

“As I said to the play­ers them­selves, there is no need to make any rash de­ci­sions on any­thing they want to do. They have given ev­ery­thing.

“I know it’s a dif­fi­cult time and it will come for them and they will make con­sid­er­a­tions go­ing for­ward, cer­tainly the likes of Aaron and Gareth at 38 and 37, and Chris Brunt...th­ese play­ers that have had long and es­tab­lished North­ern Ire­land ca­reers. But they have time to make that de­ci­sion

“Cer­tainly at this minute in time, it’s not a de­ci­sion, and I am not think­ing any fur­ther ahead than just be­ing with the play­ers.”

If it was the end of O’Neill’s near six-year ten­ure, this per­for­mance can be high­lighted as one that epit­o­mised his team – gutsy, res­o­lute and en­er­getic.

They were vastly im­proved from Thurs­day and nearly forced ex­tra-time too, but Jonny Evans’s stop­page-time header was cleared off the line by none other than Ro­driguez.

It was hard to es­cape the fact that it was Hate­gan’s call that meant O’Neill was con­duct­ing a post-match press con­fer­ence in­stead of his side play­ing out another 30 min­utes.

“The cru­elty is in the poor­ness of the de­ci­sion,” he added.

“We’re miss­ing out on the chance to go to the World Cup. We should still be play­ing ex­tra­time now, that’s the real­ity.

“Over the two legs, for us to miss out off the na­ture of the de­ci­sion and how it was given, is ex­tremely cruel. At this level, for a group of play­ers that de­serve more... we should still be fight­ing for our place to go to Rus­sia. The play­ers are emo­tional and up­set.”

PIC­TURE: NICK POTTS/PA WIRE

END OF A DREAM: North­ern Ire­land’s Jor­dan Jones, right, and his team-mates look de­jected af­ter a goal­less draw with Switzer­land in Basel saw them lose the World Cup play-off 1-0 on ag­gre­gate.

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