Michael O’Neill admits that the big decision was made in November rather than April as he starts life as just a club manager for the first time in nearly a decade.
O’Neill has stepped down as Northern Ireland boss after Uefa were forced to delay the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs until at least October.
He has always admitted that the two jobs were impossible to juggle in the long-term but he had been committed to seeing through the campaign, having got within two wins of reaching the finals for the second time in a row.
It is with a heavy heart that he hands over the reins – but it is his day-to-day job at Stoke City that has to take priority.
“The real decision I made, in all honesty, was in November when I decided to take the Stoke job,” he told Sky Sports.
“That was a very difficult decision for me to make at the time, knowing that we had virtually secured a play-off at the very least.
“But I felt it was the right opportunity at the right time for me.
“I felt also it would have been unfair to ask someone to come in and take the play-off game in March with very little preparation.
“The game was scheduled for a Thursday, which meant at best you were getting two days’ preparation with the players. It was arranged for me to take that game alongside my commitments at Stoke.
“But once that game was cancelled, June would have been a perfect date… and once that was cancelled it was always going to be very difficult.
“I have to be fair to Stoke. They’ve been brilliant, they’ve been very accommodating and once I made that decision in November I had to give priority to Stoke.
“Northern Ireland also need clarity too in order to appoint someone and give that person the right opportunity.”
The Daily Mail claim that O’Neill was in line for a £500,000 bonus if he had guided Northern Ireland through the qualifiers – taking on Bosnia and then the winners of Republic of Ireland and Slovakia.
But Northern Ireland now start the search for his successor – and he leaves big boots to fill.
O’Neill has revived the team’s fortunes since he was appointed in December 2011 after a successful time in charge of Shamrock Rovers.
He only won one of his first 18 games in charge and the nation dropped to 129th in the world rankings – but he leaves them in 36th place. They reached the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 in France and only narrowly missed out on making the 2018 World Cup.
Ian Baraclough, currently Northern Ireland under-21s coach, is bookies’ favourite to take over while Irish FA’s elite performance director Jim Magilton, Motherwell’s Stephen Robinson, Hull City’s Grant McCann and St Johnstone’s Tommy Wright are also contenders.
O’Neill told the Belfast Telegraph: “If the board and the IFA want me to help with a little bit of guidance then I’ll be more than happy to do that but I won’t be choosing my successor.
“To be fair to the candidate, whoever it may be, they deserve a process where the previous manager isn’t involved. I know that the IFA went through a lengthy process to appoint myself and they’ll do that again.
“The names that have been mentioned are very credible contenders for that job.
“All of the people mentioned have an affiliation to Northern Ireland in some way, having worked within the system or under me. They’re all very credible in terms of their ability to do the job.”