Northern Ireland vs Croatia: Michael O'Neill distances himself from Scotland job should Gordon Strachan be sacked

Northern Ireland are second in their World Cup qualifying group

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The Independent Online

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill downplayed suggestions he could be interested in any possible managerial vacancy with Scotland by insisting he had "not given it a second thought".

Some pundits north of the border have suggested O'Neill would be a perfect fit for the Tartan Army should Gordon Strachan's three-year tenure be ended following a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Those tipping Edinburgh-based O'Neill for the post have admired his work in turning around his small country, whom he took to their first ever European Championship finals in the summer, with Northern Ireland also well placed in second after four matches of the qualifiers for Russia.

However, having signed a four-year contract extension back in March, O'Neill insists the possibility of switching jobs at the international level has not entered his consciousness.

Asked if Northern Irish fans should be worried about his links with the Scottish post, O'Neill replied: "No, I don't think so.

"First of all, there's someone in that job who I have a huge amount of respect for, who is a manger I played under (at Coventry).

"It's probably the fact I live in Scotland is a bigger driving factor of that than anything else. I haven't given a second thought to that at all. I'd rather not give a comment on that situation at the minute to be fair."

That O'Neill would even be in the frame should any possible vacancy arise is a testament to the transformation he has presided over in Belfast.

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Strachan may well have managed his final Scotland game (Getty)

Next month will mark five years since the Irish Football Association turned to the ex-Shamrock Rovers boss and, although there was only one victory in his first 18 games to celebrate, Northern Ireland have been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Taking the nation to their first finals in three decades, and reaching the last 16 while in France, did not pique clubs' interest across the water, a fact that astounded members of the Northern Irish squad.

And, should the Scottish Football Association attempt to lure O'Neill away from his current position, he must consider whether that post is more attractive than his current one, where a strong group of veteran players signed on for a tilt at reaching the World Cup in Russia.

"A lot of our key players are 30-plus, but maybe what that gives us in our favour is they don't want this to stop, they want it to last as long as it can," O'Neill said of his squad.

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Kyle Lafferty celebrates as Northern Ireland brushed aside Azerbaijan on Friday (Getty)

"When you've played a lot of international football you want it to last as long as possible, because they have played through some dark days as well.

"If you get them (memories) at the end of your career you remember it a lot more fondly.

"The legacy hopefully this group of players leave is a positive one, not only from the Euros but going forward, because they genuinely want to go to a World Cup and push for that and be in contention for that."

Northern Ireland take on Croatia in a friendly on Tuesday night hoping to extend their unbeaten run at home to 11 games.

Goalkeeper Roy Carroll, 39, has been drafted in as cover for Alan Mannus due to injuries to Michael McGovern and Trevor Carson.

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