REPUBLIC of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill told students at the North West Regional College in Derry about his fascinating alliance with the ‘fearsome’ Roy Keane, saying his assistant boss appears to be ‘two minutes away from an explosion at any given stage.’
In a light-hearted and humorous talk hosted by presenter, Claire McCollum at the Foyle Theatre on Strand Road in Derry yesterday afternoon, the Ireland supremo went into detail about his relationship with Keane, the late Brian Clough and named ex-Celtic legend, Henrick Larsson as the best player he’s every managed.
“Roy’s beard makes him really fearsome,” he said. “I don’t like the beard and I’ve asked him to get rid of it and in total defiance he actually grew it longer,” O’Neill told the NWRC students. “So my influence over him is absolutely nil.
“He’s not a pussy cat,” he continued. “He’s very scary indeed. I get on reasonably well with him. He has been a great help and an inspiration but he’s two minutes away from an explosion at any given stage.
“When he wakes up in the morning and comes down for breakfast you have a little look in his eye to see if he’s in a good mood, a bad mood; whether there is a smile coming or a snarl.
“He is actually genuinely terrific. He will tell you how he feels. I think this little spell with myself as the decision maker has probably helped him. He’s been in management and was a phenomenal player - the driving force of Manchester United for 10 years so a really significant player and enormously influential.
“When he was able to do all those things on the field and then you go into management and are hoping all those players can emulate what you’ve done - it’s a wee bit different.
“After his experiences with Sunderland and Ipswich I think he wants to go back in (to management) which is absolutely fine and he’d be great. But in the meantime, his job as assistant has given him a little time to reflect and I think he’s using it wisely.
“A great character and very strong willed,” added the Ireland boss. “All those characteristics made him the player he was. There was more skilful players that played in the Premier League but there’s very few more determined.”
The Ireland manager talked in detail about how the late Brian Clough who had a huge impact, not only on his football career, but his life in general.
When he wakes up in the morning and comes down for breakfast you have a little look in his eye to see if he’s in a good mood, a bad mood; whether there is a smile coming or a snarl.Martin O’Neill
“He helped shape my life,” said the former Celtic, Sunderland and Aston Villa manager. “But we didn’t always get on. We had a difference of opinion about my ability. I thought I was brilliant and he didn’t.”
O’Neill, who spent five years as a boarder in St Columb’s College in Derry before continuing his studies at St Malachy’s in Belfast and then Queens University where he was studying before being snapped up by Nottingham Forest, told students his mother was a key figure in his education and claimed his school studies ‘stood me in good stead throughout my career’.
“I’m always a bit sceptical about people like myself giving messages to young people,” he said. “When I was leaving St Malachy’s in upper sixth year a barrister came in to speak with us and he was really inspirational. People were going off in different directions doing different things and there was some very smart people in my class and have done excellent things in their lives. And there were a few clever people in there who became disappointments - but that’s life.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do was to preach to these young people about what they should do. They have own aspirations and thoughts about what they want to do,.
“If there is any kind of experience I can give them then that’s great, but my message to them is that if they have some goal, please don’t give up on it.
I’m the last person to be talking about role models. I can’t even be a role model to my two daughters,” laughed.
When asked who was the best player he’s ever seen, O’Neill said, without hesitation, Lionel Messi and he claimed former Celtic striker, Larsson was the best player he’s ever managed.
“Henrick Larsson is an iconic figure who would have made it anywhere,” said O’Neill. The most pleasing thing about Larsson was that he was sensational in the UEFA Cup final against Porto. He then went to Barcelona and came on against Arsenal in the Champions League final and changed the game. He went on to Manchester United from there at 33 or 34 years of age and scored goals in the big league.”
O’Neill was speaking at the North West Regional College Masterclass ‘Getting to the top of your game’.