Former Newcastle striker leads country to glory
A big well done to Michael O’Neill on his magnificent achievement with Northern Ireland.
The last time they qualified for a major tournament was thirty years ago, the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico.
After years in the wilderness and the achievements of the 1982 World Cup a very distant memory, most football fans in Northern Ireland had given up hope of ever seeing their team compete.
However, O’Neill has achieved this feat with one game still remaining.
Northern Ireland beat Greece 3-1 on Thursday night top ensure automatic qualification for France next summer, topping the group with an impressive 20 points, three clear of Romania and four ahead of Hungary.
Michael O’Neill is a bit of a strange one for Newcastle fans as he looked outstanding in his first season at St James Park but then injury intervened and the chaos at the club, with his career seemingly never recovering.
A low key signing from Coleraine in the summer of 1987, Michael O’Neill was only 18 when he made his Newcastle debut, but that 1987/88 season gets most mentions because of the Paul Gascoigne/Mirandinha link up.
However, it was Michael O’Neill who was the biggest shining light as he hit 12 goals despite only making 19 starts in the First Division that year, making him top scorer ahead of Mirandinha’s 11 goal league total.
Very popular with the fans as a striker/attacking midfielder, injury played its part and then of course the following season saw the club implode and relegation follow, to a back drop of civil war in the boardroom.
Gazza had left, the signings hadn’t worked out and Michael O’Neill was allowed to leave, heading off to Dundee United before a long list of moves including Wigan, Coventry and Glentoran.
No doubt Michael O’Neill has regularly looked back at that 1987/88 season at St James Park and wondered what might have been…
Today though he will wake up and after a low key management career with Brechin and Shamrock Rovers he has returned his country to top international competition against the odds.
Good luck in France next summer.
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