Published Thursday, 03 October 2013
Reflecting on another largely forgettable qualification series for major finals.
With two games remaining for Northern Ireland - against Israel and Azerbaijan - the chances of a top two finish and making the plane to the World Cup Finals in Brazil next summer are long gone.
They sit fourth out of six in Group F - level on points with Luxembourg.
O'Neill's record reads 12 matches in charge and just the one win.
And the lowest of those points undoubtedly came last month in the 3 - 2 loss to Luxembourg - a watershed - Luxembourg, a team who, prior to that game, had last won a World Cup qualifier way back in the mists of time in 1972 - and who are ranked 126th in the FIFA world rankings.
Despite that though, the Irish FA President Jim Shaw has backed O'Neill - and it is understandable why, because as the old saying goes, a workman is only as good as his tools.
For anyone who would say 'get rid of O'Neill' - ask yourself this: "Who could do a better job with the squad available?"
Looking at the latest 23-man panel unveiled by O'Neill to play against Azerbaijan and Israel this month, it has plenty who play with top division clubs in their respective countries - however the key point is this: for a number of them, the problem comes with how regularly they are featuring for those teams - or put another way - not enough.
It is something O'Neill himself has acknowledged is a big problem - the gap between playing in the second or even third tiers of the English game, and World Cup qualifiers is stratospheric - and the gap between that and reserve team football - even bigger again.
There are exceptions to this of course - Jonny Evans, Steve Davis and Aaron Hughes to name just three, do have the experience at the very top end, but the international game is so competitive that it will take many, many more players to be in that position before Northern Ireland can be close to emulating the class of Mexico '86 (the last Northern Ireland team to reach a major Finals') and making the holy grail of another major tournament showpiece.
Speaking to the assembled media to preview the Israel and Azerbaijan ties, O'Neill rubbed his hand to his chin as he looked at the squad sheet ahead of him.
When pressed by the media on any new faces who may be near the brink of a call up to the senior squad, he exhaled as he admitted: "I don't have that many options outside the group.
"The slight concern for me is the amount of game time they've (the players) had since the Luxembourg game and this in terms of their club football.
"International duty comes round at the right time for these players, because they do need games."
It comes round at the right time for the players yes, but not necessarily so for Northern Ireland's aspirations as the players lack action and sharpness in between time.
Players will always say 'you can do all the training in the world during the week to prepare for games, but what is absolutely crucial is minutes on the pitch' - not watching from substitutes' benches.
That undoubtedly is hampering Northern Ireland and their attempts to increase their number of wins in matches on the international stage.
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