​The moment that all Northern Ireland supporters were dreading has finally arrived. 


Michael O'Neill has left his role as coach of the national team with immediate effect, to focus his future efforts on current club Stoke City. 


While those in the Potteries will be rejoicing at the news that their newly-appointed saviour only has eyes for Staffordshire, a nation will be sharing a rueful smile over what might have been this summer. 


O'Neill initially joined Stoke in November, under the original agreement that he would split his responsibilities between the Championship club and Northern Ireland until the end of the Euro 2020 campaign. 

But the postponement of the summer tournament meant that the 50-year-old would either have to continue this balancing act for another entire domestic season, or renounce his position as an international coach. 


​Unfortunately for the Green and White Army, O'Neill has opted to call time on his eight-year spell at the helm of their overachieving nation. 


But what exactly does this mean for all parties involved? 


The Statement 

"After careful consideration and following discussions with the Irish FA I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside," O'Neill explained. 


“I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the UEFA 2020 play-off game versus Bosnia and Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible.

“It was important to leave the association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight-year tenure. 


“Finally, to the fans, thank you. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to manage my country and I will treasure my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever. The support you have provided myself and the team over the years has been incredibly humbling."


Read the statement in full ​here


The View From Stoke 


Well, let's be honest - ​Stoke fans must be head over heels right now. From the off, it was apparent that the time would eventually come for O'Neill to wave goodbye to his job at Northern Ireland. 


And although there were never any real fears that he would backtrack on his word, there is probably a sense of relief around the Potteries that this love-triangle experiment has come to an end. Like a current lover who claims to be fine with their partner regularly texting an ex-flame, doubts were bound to creep in, and more often that not, peace of mind comes from cutting all ties. 

So now the Potters have O'Neill all to themselves, what may change? Well, the Northern Irishman's time at the Bet365 stadium has got off to an electrifying (sorry, Rock) start, and that has been in spite of the apparent difficulties in splitting his time between Staffordshire and Belfast. 


Having stepped in with Stoke seemingly doomed at the bottom of the table, O'Neill has instilled a winning mentality and confidence in his players, who have in turn responded by catapulting themselves to within a genuine shot at survival. 


The form table since the beginning of January sees the Potters battling it out at the top end of the Championship, and having recaptured the feel-good factor at the club, and harmonised a fractured fanbase, that's exactly where he'll be aiming to end the 2020/21 campaign. 


Full steam ahead, the Premier League! 


The View From Northern Ireland 


But for all the bottles of champagne that are currently popping around the Potteries, there will be plenty more whisky tumblers being wistfully swilled and sunk in Northern Ireland. It's easy to forget just how far the national team has come under O'Neill, but the inspirational coach has taken his country to some incredible heights, peaking with their impressive run at Euro 2016. 


And it was clear from his choice to task himself with two jobs, that O'Neill was desperate not to leave his country when they needed him most - in the midst of a qualification campaign for the now-delayed Euro 2020. 

FBL-EURO-2020-QUALIFIER-GER-NIR-PRESSER

One last hurrah was in order for the beloved manager and his country, but fate can be cruel and that final reunion has been snatched from under their noses. For the Green and White Army, they can afford to spend the next few weeks reminiscing over the journey they have enjoyed together, but behind the scenes, the show must go on. 


The Northern Irish FA face the tough task of replacing the man who has carried the nation from 129th in the FIFA rankings, to the dizzying heights of 20th position within only five years. 


But while tears may flow and disappointment is unavoidable, very few will resent O'Neill for his decision to leave, and nearly all will be wishing him the very best for his future as Stoke City head coach.