Martin O'Neill factor – Brolly
FOR a man who missed the penalty that lost Derry the 1970 All-Ireland minor semi-final, Martin O’Neill has come a long way. Ger Power’s Kerry won by two points that day, in a game Derry dominated courtesy of O’Neill. It is one of the few reversals in his career.
Last Sunday, I departed from the habit of a lifetime and watched a full soccer match. Before kick off, the Sky cameras went outside the ground, where there was an unmistakeable sense of excitement. The Sky studio team were swept up in the mood.
So were the Sunderland team. The game was played at a frantic tempo. A goal down with six minutes to go, you knew it wasn’t over. Sunderland surged forward, time and again. In the end, they couldn’t be resisted. When the exquisite winning goal went in, the cameras focussed on Martin O’Neill as he sprang high into the air, beaming.
Afterwards, David Vaughan the Sunderland midfielder, told reporters, “It felt different out there today. Martin has given us belief. He wants us to express ourselves and enjoy football. Training is fun. Sort, sharp and aimed at getting us to enjoy our football again.”
With that, he smiled and headed for the changing room. Sunderland’s players and supporters had just experienced the O’Neill effect.
My son Rory is a first year at the renowned Saint Malachy’s College in north Belfast. Each morning, he walks through those 200 year-old oak doors, passing under a photograph of the great 1970 MacRory Cup winning team.
In the middle of the front row, sits O’Neill, their star. Everywhere he goes, success follows.
He began grammar school life at Saint Columb’s in Derry as a boarder, guiding them to the Corn Na nÓg title.
Soon after, his family moved to Belfast and Saint Malachy’s drew the long straw. Two footed, with great balance and vision, he was soon turning out for the small Rosario club on the Ormeau Road. John McGettrick, a veteran Belfast solicitor, boasts that he taught O’Neill the offside rule, running along the sideline and shouting “Now”.
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