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I'm just enjoying the good times: Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

By Allan Preston

Published 29/12/2015

Michael O'Neill with wife Bronagh at the Sports Personality of the Year awards in Belfast
Michael O'Neill with wife Bronagh at the Sports Personality of the Year awards in Belfast
The Northern Ireland manager celebrating a victory in the Euro qualifiers

"These are the good times in football and you have to enjoy them," says Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

With his team heading to France next year for Euro 2016 and him being named the BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year, it's easy to see why O'Neill is loving life at the top of his game.

"It's been a great year," he says.

"A great qualifying campaign that started just over a year ago, we're now looking forward to the Euros in France, our first time at a major tournament in 30 years.

"It's been a fantastic experience for me and a fantastic experience for all the players and everyone connected to the whole Northern Ireland team."

In a special hour-long interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback aired today at noon, O'Neill reflects about Northern Ireland's recent success, choosing football over GAA, his own highs and lows as a player and turning to the Republic's football manager Martin O'Neill for advice.

Raised in Ballymena, O'Neill says he can't remember life without football. He enjoyed a prolific playing career, starting in Coleraine and moving on to a string of clubs in England and Scotland including Newcastle United and Dundee United. He even spent a year in the United States playing for the Portland Timbers.

He admits his accent has taken on something of a Scottish burr over the years having moved away from Ballymena to start his career aged 17.

"People have commented on that, it's not Graeme McDowell quite yet," he says laughing.

He's also kept his family home in Edinburgh with his wife Bronagh and daughters Erin and Olivia.

His first venture into management started with Scottish side Brechin City - while still holding down a day job as a financial adviser - but it was his success turning around the floundering Shamrock Rovers that put him in line for the Northern Ireland job in 2011.

Before taking on his current role, he says he reached out to his southern counterpart and namesake, Republic manager Martin O'Neill.

"He's a fantastic manager. We wouldn't speak regularly, but I did speak to him before I took the Northern Ireland job to get a bit of guidance from him. I don't have many mentors, but if I was going to pick up the phone Martin would be high up the list."

Reflecting on the Northern Ireland team's success this year, he said: "It's a real team effort. We're not blessed with a huge amount of resource in terms of the number of players and also the level a lot of our players play at. But one thing we have done is build a really strong team unit and the spirit was fantastic throughout this campaign and it's led to some really good performances.

"I'm immensely proud of the team, of course, the players deserve all the plaudits they're getting. These are the good times in football and you have to enjoy them. It's nice for them to revel in the spotlight that they're getting at this time."

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