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International Football: Northern Ireland searching for Ian Baraclough successor

The Irish FA are have started their search for a new manager after confirming the sacking of Ian Baraclough on Friday.

This article was originally published on 22 October 2022

Football management can be cruel but Baraclough was given plenty of time to try and work his magic with the Northern Ireland national side. He spent 28 months at the helm but lead Northern Ireland to just four victories in 22 competitive fixtures after replacing Michael O'Neill in the dugout. 

Baraclough can take some comfort in the fact that he helped them to avoid relegation to the fourth tier of the Nations League, however, he failed to follow in the footsteps of O'Neill and guide the Green and White Army to a major competition. Following on from O'Neill, who led Northern Ireland to the last-16 of Euro 2016, always looked a thankless task and Baraclough ultimately failed to take the team to the next level. 

The former Under-21s boss always claimed he was building for the long-term but clearly the Irish FA didn't see enough progress and his exit was officially confirmed on Friday. The search is now on for Northern Ireland's next manager but the Irish FA aren't in a major rush to make an appointment with no competitive action until March 2023. Many believe Northern Ireland have a great chance of qualifying for Euro 2024, having been drawn against Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino in Group H. 

Denmark are the 1/7 favourites to top the section with Northern Ireland available at 16/1 to finish the campaign at the summit. They are set to travel to San Marino and host Finland in March and having the right manager in charge is essential. So who could the Irish FA turn to in order to get the best out of their current crop of players? 

Michael O'Neill 

Some say you should never go back but there's a feeling that O'Neill could be tempted to take the reins for a second time. O'Neill is an immensely popular figure with the fans due to their run at Euro 2016, which was their first major competition appearance in nearly 30 years. 

The 53-year-old is currently out of work after being sacked by Championship side Stoke in August and it would be almost naive of the Irish FA not to sound him out. Of course, returning to the role in which he excelled in last time comes with a huge amount of risk and O'Neill will have to think carefully about whether he is prepared to put his reputation on the line. 

Neil Lennon 

Former Northern Ireland international is another top candidate for the position after also recently finding himself out of a job. Lennon was sacked by Cypriot outfit Omonia Nicosia on 18th October following a home defeat to newly-promoted Nea Salamis Famagusta. The 51-year-old, who made 40 appearances for the national side, has twice managed Celtic and also enjoyed spells with Bolton and Hibernian. He led Celtic to 10 major trophies during his two spells in Glasgow and the opportunity to step into international management might prove too tempting to turn down. 

David Healy 

David Healy is Northern Ireland's all-time record goalscorer, netting 36 goals in 95 appearances between 2000 and 2013. Healy is best known for registering the winner against England and also bagging a hat-trick against Spain. After hanging his boots up in 2013 following a stint with Bury, Healy moved into management in 2015 with NIFL Premiership side Linfield. He remains in charge of the Blues and has led them to five league titles, while they were just a minute away from qualifying for this season's Europa Conference League. 

The 43-year-old has been named Northern Ireland Manager of the Year in each of the past four seasons. Healy is clearly well-regarded on the domestic scene but moving into international management would be a major step up. It seems almost inevitable that Healy will manage Northern Ireland at some point but this might not be the right time for him. Tommy Wright Another former Northern Ireland international, Tommy Wright, could prove to be a darkhorse for the role, especially when considering he was interviewed two years ago when Baraclough got the nod. 

Wright made no attempt to hide his disappointment when overlooked and it will be interesting to see if he's prepared to throw his hat back in the ring. He is currently out of work after a short stint in charge of Kilmarnock, lasting just 11 months at Rugby Park, but he did enjoy success during his time with St Johnstone. The County Antrim man, who featured 31 times in goal for Northern Ireland, led St Johnstone to their maiden Scottish Cup title in 2014 and twice secured a place in Europe.

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