Paddy McNair is confident new manager Ian Baraclough can build on the success of Michael O’Neill and keep the good times coming for Northern Ireland.
Baraclough took over from O’Neill back in April but will take charge of the Green and White Army for the first time when they face Romania in the UEFA Nations League on Friday night.
After eight years in which O’Neill guided Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 and made them a force to be reckoned with in qualifying campaigns, Baraclough has big shoes to fill.
However, the players have all said the adjustment has felt easy this week.
“It’s been strange Michael not being here,” McNair said. “He’s the only Northern Ireland manager I’ve had, I had him for nearly six years.
“But ‘Bara’ has been in the squad and we’ve seen quite a bit of him over the last few years. We always saw him around the place, so it’s not really too different and it’s been a good week so far.”
While the Nations League fixtures come first, attention remains on Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off against Bosnia next month as they look to make it to back-to-back European Championships.
Asked if O’Neill’s exit meant the end of the success story, McNair said: “Definitely not. We’ve got a lot to play for. We’ve got Bosnia next month and we’ve got another great chance to qualify for a major tournament.
“Under Michael the squad was playing well and there’s no reason why we can’t continue that or do even better under the new manager…
“We’ve got a great chance (of qualifying). I think it’s good we have got two games before we go into the play-offs. We’ve got two games to get ourselves warmed up under the new manager. It’s all exciting.”
The change of managers comes at a time when Northern Ireland players have not met up as a squad since November due to the pandemic.
“It’s been 10 months since the last game and it’s been probably the longest since I’ve been away from the squad,” McNair said.
“It’s good to see everyone again and after the first 10 minutes of coming together everything was back to normal.”
While the Scottish-based players in Baraclough’s squad have started their new campaigns, McNair and others have been called out of pre-season to play two competitive internationals.
When he returns to Middlesbrough next week, McNair will set his sights on promotion to the Premier League under Neil Warnock, whose first task was to avoid relegation when he took over in June.
“I think he’s got the most promotions out of any manager, eight I think, and it’s great to see him come in,” McNair said.
“Hopefully we can have a real crack at it this year as we didn’t do as well as we hoped last season.
“We want to really kick on this year and pre-season has been good with the new manager. We are looking forward to the season getting started.”
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