Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Some of Michael O'Neill's family will be cheering on the Republic - who gets your support?

NI boss admits to split allegiances for Euro 2016 among his nearest and dearest

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has revealed that some members of his family will be supporting the Republic of Ireland in the Euro 2016 finals - and he doesn't have a problem with it whatsoever.

The European Championships will see both Northern Ireland and the Republic play in the finals of the same major tournament for the first time, although the earliest they could meet is in the knockout stages.

And such is the nature of the island, while hundreds of thousands of people from Northern Ireland will be cheering on their home nation in France, a large number living here will be roaring for Martin O'Neill's Republic side when the tournament kicks off next year.

The draw for the group stages of Euro 2016 takes place in Paris tomorrow, with both O'Neills attending the glitzy affair, having earlier this week been jointly awarded the prestigious 2015 Philips Manager of the Year prize.

It may seem a complicated issue to fans of other countries who will play at the Euro finals, but the Northern Ireland boss, who comes from a Catholic background, is philosophical about the situation.

"At the end of day, people will choose who they want to support," he said.

"I have family members that will support the Republic of Ireland in the European Championships. That's their choice. They won't wish Northern Ireland any ill. I've no problem with it, to be honest."

O'Neill is on the verge of signing a four-year extension to his contract with the Irish Football Association having become the first manager in history to lead Northern Ireland to the Euro finals.

Namesake Martin is also expected to agree a new deal to stay on as the Republic manager. Talks with the Football Association of Ireland will take place in January with a positive outcome on the cards.

Last Saturday the former Celtic boss, who captained Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, had another important date when his daughter Alana got married.

"It was a lovely day," said O'Neill, who joked that he felt his father of the bride speech had gone down well.

They may have taken different routes to get to France, with Northern Ireland qualifying as table-toppers of Group F and the Republic making it via a play-off with Bosnia last month, but both O'Neills are relishing the prospect of tomorrow's draw, the build-up to the finals and the tournament itself.

The elder of the two, the 63-year-old Republic boss, from Kilrea, believes having both nations in France will be a special moment.

"It was a great achievement for Michael and Northern Ireland to qualify, and we are happy to have joined them," said O'Neill.

"I think the significance of it will probably dawn on us more when we're out there, especially when you meet supporters from Northern Ireland and some supporters from Northern Ireland who might have been around in the 1982 time as well."

The younger O'Neill (46) says the fans will enhance the tournament.

"I'm sure both sets of supporters will travel in great numbers and the atmosphere at the games the teams will be involved will be fantastic," said the Ballymena man.

"Our aim will be to get through to the knockout stages. It will be interesting to see what Saturday's draw in Paris brings in terms of the groups."

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