Martin O’Neill had a fantastic career as a player, winning back to back European Cups. Since retiring, he has made a name for himself as a world-class manager. O’Neill is now in charge of Aston Villa, one of a few clubs looking to break into England’s illustrious ‘top four’.
In the Beginning
Martin Hugh Michael O’Neill was born on March 1st 1952 in Kilrea, Northern Ireland. He was brought up playing Gaelic football and conventional football. As O’Neill grew older, he looked set to carve out a career in Gaelic football. He was attracting a lot of attention, and winning tournaments at junior and college level. However, at the same time he was playing football for Distillery FC. The Gaelic football association found out that he was also playing football, and they were not happy. Their disappointment with his participation in football led to a dispute, which heightened O’Neill’s profile. With his reputation growing, O’Neill began attracting scouts to watch him play for Distillery. In 1971 O’Neill signed a professional contract for Nottingham Forest, quitting Gaelic football.
O’Neill took his time to settle in to the Forest side. It wasn’t until 1975 when Brian Clough was appointed the new manager that his Forest career took off. Clough made O’Neill the pinnacle of his midfield, a position O’Neill went onto hold down throughout what is now known as Forest’s golden era. Clough guided the side to promotion to England’s top flight. They immediately won the title, placing them at the top of English football.
That same season, 1977-78, they won the league cup. Throughout the whole campaign Martin O’Neill was an integral part of the Forest side. The following season O’Neill tasted more success, as Forest retained the league cup. The season did not end there; O’Neill and Forest made it to the European Cup Final. Inside a packed Santiago Bernabeu they beat Hamburg 1-0. In 1979-80 they made the European Cup Final once again; injury to O’Neill meant he missed the final, as Forest retained the trophy. O’Neill left Forest in 1981 and spent two spells at Norwich City. He also spent time with Manchester City and Forest’s rivals Notts County. It was at County where O’Neill brought his playing career to an end.
Representing His Country
During his professional career, O’Neill lived every young boy’s dream by representing his country. He was an ever-present in the Northern Ireland side, making 64 appearances and scoring 8 goals. Perhaps the highlight of O’Neill’s international career is the 1982 World Cup, held in Spain. O’Neill captained the side in the finals, and one game still stands out today. An evening group game in Valencia saw Northern Ireland beat the hosts Spain, a victory which no one had seen coming.
Making a Name in Management
Following retirement from playing the game, Martin O’Neill took up management. He started at the bottom, with his first job coming at Grantham Town. He spent two years at the non-league club, before spending a season in charge of Shepshed Charterhouse. In 1990 O’Neill landed the Wycombe Wanderers job. This was to be where O’Neill caught the public eye. He took over with the club lounging in the conference. He proceeded to turn the club’s fortunes around, guiding them into the football league as champions.
He went on to establish Wanderers as a football league side. Within a few seasons Wycombe went one step further by gaining promotion to what is now known as League One, via the play-offs. Following his success at Wycombe he took the Norwich job in 1995. After a few months in charge of the Canaries he left, due to differences with the chairman. Upon leaving Norwich he immediately took up the post at Leicester. This is where O’Neill furthered his reputation even more.
O’Neill wasn’t a popular appointment with the Leicester fans and his early days at the club were far from ideal. O’Neill was unperturbed by this, and following his difficult start he successfully got his career back on track. In his first season in charge O’Neill amazingly managed to gain promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs. Little was expected of Leicester, but in their first season in the top-flight O’Neill secured a top half finish. This was a feat O’Neill repeated in each of his next four seasons as Leicester manager. Not only were Leicester doing well in the league, but they were to taste cup success under O’Neill as well.
In 1997 and 2000, the club lifted the League Cup: O’Neill’s first major honours in club management. League Cup victories led to European campaigns, although on both occasions they were short lived. The European campaigns were to stand O’Neill in good stead for his next job, at Celtic. He left Leicester for the Glasgow club in 2000, following what can only be described as five exceptional years at Leicester City.
O’Neill succeeded the duo of John Barnes and Kenny Daglish at Celtic Park, and his tenure at the club was to be far more successful than theirs. Once again, O’Neill produced the goods in his first season as manager. In the 2000/01 season he guided Celtic to a domestic treble, to well and truly end Rangers’ reign in Scotland. Over the next five seasons in charge of Celtic, O’Neill established the Hoops as Scotland’s number one side. During his reign they lifted five league titles, three Scottish cups and one League cup.
Perhaps one disappointment during O’Neill’s spell at Celtic was his failure to lift the UEFA cup. In 2003 he led Celtic to the final in Seville, where they were beaten 3-2 after extra-time to Jose Mourinho’s Porto side. In 2005 O’Neill announced he was resigning from the hot seat at Celtic Park, in order to take care of his wife Geraldine who suffers from lymphoma. In his last game in charge Celtic lifted the Scottish Cup with a 1-0 win over Dundee United. O’Neill left the club with a spectacular 75% win ratio.
O’Neill was missed by the football world in the year that he took out, and everyone looked forward to seeing him back in the game. They didn’t have to wait too long. After a year out of the game, on August 4th 2006 Martin O’Neill was appointed manager of Aston Villa. After a top half finish in his first season in charge, O’Neill is now starting to push the club forward. He has had time to bring in his own players, and the club are pushing for Europe in the 2007/08 season.
Away From Football
Martin O’Neill was awarded an OBE in 2004 for services to sport.
He is married, and a loving Father to four children.
1971: Distillery FC —
1971-1981: Nottingham Forest- 285 (48)
1981: Norwich City- 11(1)
1981-1982: Manchester City- 13 (0)
1982-1983: Norwich City- 55 (11)
1983-1985: Notts County- 64 (5)
1971-1984: Northern Ireland- 64 (8)
1987-1989 Grantham Town
1989-1990 Shepshed Charterhouse
1990-1995 Wycombe Wanderers
1995 Norwich City
1995-2000 Leicester City
2006- Aston Villa
- Irish FA Cup- 1971
- European Super Cup – 1980
- European Cup – 1979, 1980
- Football League Championship – 1977/78
- League Cup – 1978, 1979
- European Super Cup – 1981
- Football League Championship – 1978/79
- Football Conference – 1993
- FA Trophy – 1991, 1993
- Division 3 Play-Off Winners – 1994
- League Cup – 1997, 2000
- Promotion to Premier League – 1995/96
- League Cup – 1999
- SPL Championship (3) – 2000/01, 2001/02, 2003/04
- Scottish Cup (3) – 2001, 2004, 2005
- Scottish League Cup (1) – 2000/01
- UEFA Cup Runner-Up – 2002/03
- Scottish Cup – 2001/02
- Scottish League Cup – 2002/03
- SPL Championship – 2002/03, 2004/05