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Gazza, Keith Gillespie and Norman Whiteside make it into O'Neill's Fantasy Football team

By Steven Beacom

Published 15/04/2016

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during Mondays training session at Queens Sports Pavillion ahead of Thursdays UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during Mondays training session at Queens Sports Pavillion ahead of Thursdays UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has selected former England star Paul Gascoigne in his dream team.

The XI, selected from those O'Neill played with during his career, also contains four of the 46-year-old's former international team-mates Mal Donaghy, Norman Whiteside, Michael Hughes and Keith Gillespie with ex-Scotland star Duncan Ferguson leading the attack.

O'Neill was picking the side as part of The Fantasy Football Club television show which will be broadcast on Sky Sports 1 tonight.

Joining presenters Paul Merson and Max Rushden, O'Neill talked about his playing days, working in the financial sector after he retired, making his way into management and taking Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals before choosing what is known on the programme as his One2Eleven.

With members of the London Northern Ireland Supporters' Club watching in the studio, O'Neill opted for the same system that brought him so much success in the European Championship qualifying campaign - 4-3-3 reverting to 4-5-1 when the opposition had the ball.

Having played 31 times for his country and numerous clubs including Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibs, Coventry City, Wigan, St Johnstone and Aberdeen as well as Coleraine and Glentoran, the Northern Ireland boss had enough options for his team.

In goal he selected ex-Aberdeen star Jim Leighton, who was famously dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United's 1990 FA Cup final replay victory over Crystal Palace.

That didn't stop O'Neill from putting the Scot between the stick in his team, having been impressed with Leighton when the pair were at Hibs in the 90s.

Dundee United players made up 50% of O'Neill's defence with David Narey at centre-back and Maurice Malpas at left-back.

Highly rated Swedish ace Roland Nilsson, who O'Neill was with at Coventry, was picked at right-back with Northern Ireland hero Donaghy in the centre of defence.

In the middle of the park O'Neill went for class, creativity and commitment with Gary McAllister joining Gascoigne and Whiteside.

McAllister was the skipper at Coventry when O'Neill was there in the late 90s, while he enjoyed playing with a young Gascoigne for Newcastle and Whiteside at international level.

O'Neill's Northern Ireland pals Hughes and Gillespie also made the cut with ex-Everton and Rangers striker Ferguson up front.

Ferguson and O'Neill were team-mates in a well respected Dundee United side.

It's an attacking line-up with players who could express themselves on the pitch and enjoy themselves off it.

Whether or not it would beat O'Neill's current Northern Ireland side, with Gareth McAuley, Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty, is a matter of debate for the fans.

O'Neill's One2Eleven: JIM LEIGHTON (Hibs); ROLAND NILSSON (Coventry), DAVID NAREY (Dundee United), MAL DONAGHY (Northern Ireland), MAURICE MALPAS (Dundee United); GARY McALLISTER (Coventry), NORMAN WHITESIDE (Northern Ireland), PAUL GASCOIGNE (Newcastle); KEITH GILLESPIE (Northern Ireland), MICHAEL HUGHES (Northern Ireland), DUNCAN FERGUSON (Dundee United).

Michael O'Neill's full interview can be seen on Sky Sports' Fantasy Football Show - Tonight, 6pm, Sky Sports 1

Belfast Telegraph

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