Michael O’Neill: Nations League relegation is not a setback

‘We were disappointed to lose the games but I’m not devastated or despondent’

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill talks to the press at Windsor Park. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill talks to the press at Windsor Park. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho

 

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill insisted relegation in the Nations League does not represent any kind of setback for his team as they turn their attentions towards next year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Northern Ireland will start their final Nations League game against Austria on Sunday already certain of dropping into the third tier when the competition comes around again but O’Neill focused on some encouraging performances and the integration of young players.

“We played the other night with a starting line-up of five core players and six who are in single figures in terms of caps — Gavin Whyte, Liam Boyce, George Saville, Jamal Lewis, Michael Smith and the goalkeeper (Bailey Peacock-Farrell),” he said.

“We’re progressing, those boys are stepping up in international football and playing against a lot more experienced players.

“I’ve been delighted with how the players have come in. We’ve got good competition for places in a lot of areas on the pitch, at times we haven’t had that.

“So despite the fact the three games have gone against us, we were disappointed to lose the games but I’m not devastated or despondent.”

Sunday’s game may now effectively be a dead rubber but O’Neill said he would target victory in the hope of building momentum ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying draw on December 2nd.

“I’ll pick a team to win the game,” he said. “We’ll be cautious to an extent, we don’t want to lose players. A Thursday-Sunday doubleheader is a challenge but equally a lot of players haven’t played a lot of club football and they want the games.

“George (Saville), Davo (Steven Davis) and even Jonny (Evans) to an extent have played less than in previous seasons, and Stuart Dallas is only recently into the Leeds team.

“They want the football and they have to get accustomed to playing doubleheaders.

“I’ll pick a team to win the game but I won’t take unnecessary risks.”

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