Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

O'Neill tunes into derby passion

Martin O'Neill

Boyhood Sunderland fan Martin O'Neill admits even he did not fully understand the passion of the Tyne-Wear derby before he arrived in the north-east.

The Black Cats boss, who celebrated his 60th birthday this week, will lead his side into battle with arch-rivals Newcastle on Sunday having had a chance to fully acquaint himself with the emotion surrounding the one fixture in the Barclays Premier League calendar which matters more than most in the region.

O'Neill said: "Because you are a Sunderland fan from a distance, I didn't grow up with all the hype and the furore around about the place. Obviously, if I had lived here, I would have understood it more. I was reasonably young, like 11-plus time, and I can't really remember."

He added: "But then I probably didn't really regard Newcastle as being the massive foe that they were.

"And you know what? I hate to say this, but it might have been to do with geography as well in the sense that at 11, I knew where Siberia was, but I wasn't sure where Hetton-le-Hole was."

O'Neill now certainly knows where Hetton-le Hole is, and what victory on Tyneside would mean for a club which was hammered 5-1 there in the corresponding fixture last season and passed up the opportunity to gain revenge at the Stadium of Light in August when Ryan Taylor's lone strike was enough to give the Magpies the points.

He said: "It's a really passionate area. It's a cliched old word, but it really is.

"It used to be the hotbed of football. When you think of the great players that have emerged from this part of the country, it's fantastic, absolutely fantastic.

"Some of the best players who have ever played the game have come from here, really great players. You do feel it - and today, I was dreading speaking to you about it because then I feel it even more."

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