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Former Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill was born on this day in Kilrea, Northern Ireland. He supported us as a boy, his hero being SAFC legend Charlie Hurley but also had an affinity for Celtic.

In his youth he was not only a talented footballer, but also a keen Gaelic footballer but any hope of continuing both is impossible as the Gaelic footballing body discourages participation in ‘foreign sports’. O’Neill had a relatively easy choice between the two, despite playing them both at a decent level football was his calling.

He played for the Irish club Distillery, where he won the Irish Cup in 1971, scoring twice in a 3–0 win over Derry City in the final, the second one being an absolute peach. Winning the cup meant Europe beckoned for Distillery in the following season and O'Neill even managed a goal against Barcelona. His performances garnered admiration from Nottingham Forrest and O’Neill quit his university studies to join, which he was undertaking simultaneously with playing for Distillery. Imagine coming in to Uni after a weekend and telling a bunch of hung-over students that you’d scored against Barca that weekend.

Dropping out of Uni is something people often justify by citing the long list of famous people they are following in the footsteps of – from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to George Clooney and Eric Clapton. Add to that esteemed list Martin O’Neill. He dropped out of studying law and was part of Nottingham Forrest’s golden era, making just shy of 300 appearances for the club. He was a vital part of the squad that won two European Cups. Although he missed the first final through injury, he started the second one a year later against Hamburg.

Despite the eventual success, life at Forrest was not easy initially and in his first season they suffered relegation to the Second Division. But, Brian Clough galvanised the side. After achieving promotion back to the top flight in 1977, Forrest won the league title and League Cup a year later and then repeated the League Cup success the following year. Then, the crowning achievement of that golden era came – the two consecutive European Cup successes.

In the years after leaving Forrest in 1981, O’Neill had six more clubs, including Notts County but never recaptured his form, partly due to injury. This injury to his knee led to his retirement. After retirement, O’Neill began his managerial career right at the bottom of football, with Grantham Town and Shepshed Charterhouse.

After these appointments, O'Neill rose to prominence whilst in charge of Wycombe Wanderers. He was there between 1990 and 1995, taking the Chairboys from the Football Conference to the third tier of English football in successive seasons, making him their most successful manager in history. They are now established as a football league side, as we are well aware. After a really brief stint at Norwich, who he made 11 appearances for as a player, he joined Leicester.

Here, he won two League Cups (1997 and 2000) and finished runner-up in a third League Cup Final (1999). Under O’Neill, the Foxes had four consecutive top ten finishes between 1997 and 2000.

O'Neill's success with Leicester prompted Celtic to come in for the manager in the summer of 2000. O’Neill had the difficult task of guiding a Celtic team who had finished 20 points behind champions Rangers in the preceding campaign to challenge for the title. He completed the domestic treble in his first season.

The Northern Irishman won three SPL titles, three Scottish Cups and a League Cup in his five years at Celtic Park, guiding the Bhoys to UEFA Champions League qualification on three occasions and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final. He also set a British record of 25 consecutive victories.

He left Parkhead in May 2005, returning to football - and the Barclays Premier League - a year later where he revitalised Aston Villa's fortunes to guide the club to 11th in his first campaign and sixth-place in the next three consecutive seasons. O'Neill led Villa to the League Cup Final in 2010, finishing as runners-up.

So, O’Neill had great managerial pedigree before he came to us. But he failed to replicate any of his successes with Sunderland. Despite keeping us out of the relegation zone, we were subjected to some torrid football. Some of his signings failed to kick on, despite looking good on paper and the football was occasionally worse than under Steve Bruce, who he took over from. It was such a pity, because this appointment seemed like one under which we could kick on under, having done extremely well everywhere else. A boyhood Sunderland fan who had achieved a lot in his career, a man who had learned from Brian Clough, could never string together too many runs of decent results.

We did go on a few unbeaten runs, beating a few big teams. But the form promised by O’Neill winning 4 out of 6 of his first games was never truly recaptured. He had guided us to a respectable 13th place finish, but by the beginning of 2013, it was laborious watching us. The writing was on the wall after a run of 8 games without a win. He was sacked after getting 3 points from an available 24, promptly after we were beaten by Manchester United. Perhaps it was because he didn't bring his number 2, John Roberts that it didn't work out. Who knows?

He fared slightly better with the Republic of Ireland, despite a few scandals where he had said inappropriate things before joining Forrest as manager, taking his number two from the Republic, Roy Keane, with him. He guided the club he achieved so much with to 9th in the Championship, before being sacked as Keane left with him. It's a shame it never worked out for us, of course he would've loved for it to have, but Martin O'Neill has still had an impressive and distinguished career.