Hibs boss rules out move – but tips fellow countryman for Northern Ireland

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Hibs manager Neil Lennon has ruled himself out of managing Northern Ireland, but believes St Johnstone counterpart Tommy Wright would be an ideal replacement for Michael O’Neill.

Scotland have made O’Neill their number one target to succeed Gordon Strachan, with the former Brechin City boss said to be keen on the vacancy

That has led to the inevitable speculation about who could step into O’Neil’s shoes at Windsor Park.

Wright, who has guided Saints to three successive fourth place finishes in the Premiership, and Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson have both been linked with the post, should it become available.

Former Celtic boss Lennon, who won 40 caps for Northern Ireland, has no interest in turning his back on club football for the time being but is in no doubt who should be considered.

Asked if he would say no to any offer to manage his country, Lennon said: “Yeah, absolutely.

“I enjoy what I do and I like the day-to-day thing – I’d miss that too much.

“I don’t think I’m ready for international management.

“I don’t like the feast or famine aspect to it either. You win a couple of games and your the best thing since sliced bread, you lose a game and the whole world falls around you. It’s just disproportionate from a public perception.

“I like working with the players on a day-to-day basis as well. In international management you get the players once every couple of months and you have to get it right over a specific period of time. I think it’s a very difficult thing to do.”

However, Lennon was more than willing to throw friend Wright’s name into hat for the potential vacancy.

Lennon, who will go head to head with Wright’s St Johnstone in tomorrow’s clash at Easter Road, added: “He would, I’d imagine, be a prime candidate for it.

“He had a great career playing for Northern Ireland and he’s worked with Northern Ireland before as part of the coaching staff.”

O’Neill ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year wait for a major finals when he took his country to Euro 2016 before leading his country to the World Cup qualifying play-offs, where they were beaten by Switzerland.

And Lennon insists the former Hibs and Dundee United midfielder has the managerial nous and personality to thrive in the Hampden dugout.

Lennon added: “His stock is very high and from an Northern Ireland point of view I want him to stay on.

“Michael has performed miracles.

“To get to the last 16 of the Euros and then to make the play-offs in a group containing Germany and the Czech Republic was unheard of when I played.

“Tactically he is very strong and defensively they are well set up, and they became really hard to beat.

“Michael is a very intelligent boy and well educated.

“He came into management late as he was doing a financial advisory role for a while and then took the Brechin job.

‘He did really well with Shamrock Rovers and took them into the Europa League group stages.

“He is smart and he will make the right decision for himself, whether that will be moving on or staying.

“He is quite savvy that way.

“It is all about timing too and if he feels the time is right to move on then that will be his decision.”

Lennon, meanwhile, hopes John McGinn’s man of the match performance in last week’s narrow 1-0 friendly loss to the Netherlands proves that the midfielder should be a regular for Scotland.

The 23-year-old picked up his fifth cap against the Dutch after making his debut in the March 2016 victory over Denmark.

Lennon added: “I thought John was excellent – I was really pleased with him.

“I thought he grew more and more into the game, looked strong, got the ball back and his passing was good.

“He didn’t look out of place and that will have done him the world of good.

“In terms of what that will do for John’s confidence, hopefully it will reinforce what we already know about him.

“He is certainty good enough. And I would like to think he’s there to stay now.

“The form he is in the minute he is one of the best midfielders in the country.

“I don’t like lavishing praise on my players, going overboard, but he is certainly in a rich vein of form and has played brilliantly for his club.”

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