McIlroy leaves Irish to join Stockport

Sammy McIlroy has been appointed manager of Stockport County in the Second Division after abandoning his role as the Northern Ireland coach.

The former Manchester United midfielder has joined the Edgeley Park club five days after the end of Northern Ireland's disappointing Euro 2004 qualifying campaign. They finished bottom of Group Six, failed to win any of their eight matches, and went 1,242 minutes without scoring.

McIlroy replaces Stockport's caretaker manager, John Hollins, who stood in following Carlton Palmer's dismissal last month.

Northern Ireland will not be rushed into a knee-jerk appointment. It is understood the Irish Football Association will meet within two weeks to begin the process of appointing his successor. They may advertise the position after McIlroy stood down following three frustrating years in charge. There is no reason for the international committee to rush as Northern Ireland have no fixtures planned.

McIlroy was left frustrated by the retirement of key players such as Neil Lennon, Jim Magilton, Kevin Horlock and Gerry Taggart. He was also angered at the constant raft of withdrawals during his time in charge.

Names being bandied about in relation to the position include Iain Dowie, Danny Wilson, Jimmy Quinn and Jimmy Nicholl.

Dowie has an impressive track record at Oldham Athletic, and the Northern Ireland midfielder Michael Hughes said: "He would get my backing. No disrespect to the IFA but I don't think [people] will be breaking down the doors to get to this job."

Hughes said of McIlroy: "It is disappointing, for he is a decent manager and a decent man. I got on quite well with him and I am sorry to hear that he is leaving. People will look at our results and not know the whole truth. There are good signs we are progressing and improving."

The Glentoran striker Andy Smith, given his debut by McIlroy, said: "I am gutted, and having spoken to some of the other players I know they are, too. We all believed the future was bright under Sammy.

"We have given some decent performances recently. I know people will look at our results and think otherwise. But it is only a matter of time before we turn the corner."