Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill: Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill guided me over NI job

Michael O'Neill Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Michael O'Neill led Northern Ireland to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals in France

Michael O'Neill has revealed that Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill guided him in his decision to accept the role of Northern Ireland manager.

Before taking the job in 2011, O'Neill approached the former Northern Ireland captain and Celtic manager for advice.

In a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, he said: "I did speak to Martin before I took the Northern Ireland job.

"[I] got a little bit of guidance from him on that."

Image copyright Inpho
Image caption Earlier this month, Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill were named joint-winners of the Philips Irish Sports Manager of the Year award

"I don't have many mentors or people where I would pick the phone up for advice, but I suppose Martin would be high up the list."

O'Neill was reflecting on a remarkable year, in which he led Northern Ireland to qualification for the reach Euro 2016 finals in France.

He said that, as a boy, he was inspired to choose Martin as his confirmation name because Martin O'Neill was skippering Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.

Earlier this month, the pair were named joint winners of the Philips Irish Sports Manager of the Year award, for having guided their teams to next summer's European Championships.

And Michael O'Neill was named coach of the year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards after his remarkable year.

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Media captionO'Neill named coach of the year at 2015 SPOTY awards

But his life could have taken a very different turn after the end of his long career as a player that included stints with Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibernian and Wigan Athletic.

As he moved towards retirement, he had one eye on football management and another on a more traditional career.

He ended up spending five years working as a financial adviser.

O'Neill, who now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two daughters, says this time spent working in a "proper job" has been a valuable asset in his footballing life.

"I've benefited from working outside football in terms of finance but also in dealing with people in the general workplace," he said.

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Image caption O'Neill (right) pictured in 2003 for Glentoran towards the end of his playing career

O'Neill started out as a player at Irish League club Coleraine while he was studying for his A-levels, but it was a legal wrangle years later that would inspire him to return to his books.

"When I was at Dundee United I had a contract dispute where I saw the other side of football - at that point in time I turned back to my education," he said.

"I studied at the Open University and then did the professional qualifications at the Chartered Insurance Institute which enabled me to become a financial adviser.

"I worked firstly in Glasgow for a financial services company then went to Ernst and Young for three years as a financial consultant.

"I also worked in a start-up company, and at that time I also started to coach after doing my coaching badges."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Michael O'Neill lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughters Olivia and Erin

Like Martin O'Neill, Michael had shown early promise as a Gaelic footballer, but he said he was never torn between the two sports.

He played Gaelic football at school in Ballymena, County Antrim, and "a little bit for the Antrim county minors".

But "it always played second fiddle for me," he said.

"My father is a big GAA man - he played for St Gall's and he hurled for Antrim and Ulster as well.

"He was a very good hurling goalkeeper, but I was never brave enough, or stupid enough, to play hurling, to be honest!"

In 2006, O'Neill got his first managerial job at Brechin City in Scotland before moving to a full-time role at Dublin club Shamrock Rovers two years later.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption O'Neill took on the Northern Ireland job in 2011

He guided them to their first League of Ireland title in 16 years as well as a lucrative run in the Europa League, with glamour ties against the likes of Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

He says his financial experience helped to put both "relatively modest" clubs on "a sound financial footing".

"It's OK to be successful, but the important thing is for the club to remain strong and stable," he said.

"That was probably the biggest plus point of Shamrock Rovers, because we won two league titles in three years and went to the Europa League group stages.

"When I left the club, they still had more than one million euros in the bank, whereas at that stage before, any team that had success in the League of Ireland typically went bust a year later."

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