Belfast Telegraph

Roaring reception shows what Euro joy means to NI: O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes the reception he received when winning the Coach of the Year prize at the BBC Sports Personality event on Sunday showed how much Euro 2016 qualification means to the country.

O'Neill was given a standing ovation and roared to the stage in the SSE Arena in Belfast when Portrush golfer Graeme McDowell announced that the Northern Ireland boss had won the award.

The 46-year-old from Ballymena, who became the first Northern Ireland manager to guide the team to the European Championships, was humbled by the reaction, though it didn't stop him seizing the moment on stage to thank all those, including the players and fans, who had played roles in taking the team to France.

As the 7,500 crowd enjoyed O'Neill's emotive speech, BBC producers became anxious at how long it was taking.

Wisely, even though he was threatening to do so, co-host Gary Lineker didn't step in to move on with the show before the former Shamrock Rovers boss had concluded.

The Northern Ireland public wanted to hear from O'Neill and were granted their wish.

O'Neill's award was one for him and the country to savour. He felt the reaction from those in attendance illustrated the depth of feeling the successful Euro campaign generated.

"The reception was incredible. I think it showed what it means to the people of Northern Ireland for us to be going to France," said O'Neill.

"What we have achieved is really significant. Sometimes you don't realise that. I don't live here and players don't live in the country either.

"They tend to go back to their clubs straight away after the internationals so hopefully this will sink in to them what it means to the people for us to be going to France.

"I did not expect to get the award. It is very humbling. It is not just for me, it is also for Northern Ireland. It has been so long since we have been to a tournament and I am just picking it up on behalf of the Association and the players.

"We have a team that represents Northern Ireland from both sides of the community and from all parts of Northern Ireland.

"It has been well publicised that some players born in Northern Ireland have opted to go and play for the Republic and it is very important that the legacy of this is that young players will want to play for Northern Ireland.

"We are never going to have a huge base of players but you don't need that to have a successful international team.

"What you do need is to have as many of them playing at a successful level as possible.

"The players deserve enormous credit.

"They all handled the situation in qualifying. And I'm sure when we get to France the players will cope with things as well."

Belfast Telegraph