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Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill is a high quality arrival into Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards Hall of Fame

By Steven Beacom

Published 26/01/2016

Great sport: Republic of Ireland manager and former Northern Ireland captain Martin O'Neill is inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame by Chris Nelmes, Centre Manager of The Outlet, Banbridge, category sponsor
Great sport: Republic of Ireland manager and former Northern Ireland captain Martin O'Neill is inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame by Chris Nelmes, Centre Manager of The Outlet, Banbridge, category sponsor
Golden boy: Michael McKillop, who won two gold medals at the world paralympic championships, is presented with his award for Sportsperson with a Disability by Joanne McDowell, Director for Northern Ireland of category sponsor, Big Lottery Fund and boxer Paddy Barnes
Grand prize: Anya O'Connor picks up the WJ 'Paddy' Patterson award on behalf of her grandfather Danny O'Connor from Roy Millar, Chair of Northern Ireland Sports Forum
Hand it to her: Antrim handball star Aisling Reilly is presented with her Local Heroes Award by Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte and Brian Henning, Chair of Sport Northern Ireland

Marvellous player, magnificent manager and one of the most fascinating individuals in sport, the fabulous Martin O'Neill has been inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame.

The 63-year-old from Kilrea in county Londonderry was honoured at last night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, joining an elite band of sporting icons from Northern Ireland.

As the Republic of Ireland manager walked towards the stage to receive his award from close friends and former international team-mates Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong, he received a wonderful reception from the packed audience at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast.

It was an acknowledgement of his popularity amongst the sporting fraternity of Northern Ireland and recognition of a remarkable career which is still going strong.

Martin Hugh Michael O'Neill truly is something else, deserving his place in our Hall of Fame.

Being together again with big Pat and Gerry brought back a host of memories for Martin, not least the daring deeds of the 1982 World Cup squad which famously shocked the universe by beating Spain 1-0 in their own bullring.

O'Neill was captain on that epic night in Valencia, Armstrong scored the winner and Jennings kept the Spaniards out at the other end.

Thirty years earlier, one of the most talked about Northern Ireland sports stars was born.

Initially, a young Martin played GAA before he started out on a football career that would take him all around the globe.

O'Neill played for Distillery and even as a teenager he showed a liking for the big occasion, scoring twice in an Irish Cup final victory over Derry City in 1971. The following season he netted against Barcelona in Europe.

Sports Star of the Year: Michael Conlan . Trophy presented by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph's editor Gail Walker, and Linwoods head of marketing Sarah Shimmons. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Sports Star of the Year: Michael Conlan . Trophy presented by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph's editor Gail Walker, and Linwoods head of marketing Sarah Shimmons. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Team of the Year winner: Northern Ireland football team. Manager Michael O'Neill and assistant coach Jimmy Nicholl collect the trophy on behalf of the team from champion cyclist Martyn Irvine and Patrick Woods, Director of Linwoods. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Martin O'Neill is inducted into the Hall of Fame and presented with his trophy by football legends Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong, Michael O'Neill, Neil Lennon and joined by Chris Nelmes, Centre Manager of category sponsor The OUTLET Banbridge. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Hall of Fame award: Martin O'Neill is inducted into the Hall of Fame and presented with his trophy by Chris Nelmes, Centre Manager of category sponsor The OUTLET Banbridge. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Belfast boxer Michael Conlan gets a congratulatory kiss from his mum Theresa as he was named Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year at a glittering ceremony in Belfast’s Ramada Hotel last night
Manager of the Year winner: Michael O'Neill. Michael is presented with his award from Bolton Wanderers manager Neil Lennon and Richard McClean, Managing Director, Belfast Telegraph. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
After his storming World Cup for Ireland, the George Best Breakthrough Award is given to Ulster Rugby's Iain Henderson. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Top team: Representatives from the Commonwealth games Youth team, Conor Ferguson, Danielle Hill, Ben Fisher and James McGivern collect their award from rugby legend Tommy Bowe and Muriel O'Grady, chair of the SUBWAY Ireland Marketing Board
Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year: Steven Davis (collected by father David) .Rugby Legend Stephen Ferris and Rajesh Rana, Director of category sponsor Ramada Plaza presents David Davis with Stephen's trophy. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Young Player of the Year Conor Ferguson is presented with his trophy by Dame Mary Peters and Arthur Scott, Sport NI Interim Chief Executive. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Sportsperson with a Disability winner: Michael McKillop is presented with his trophy by Paddy Barnes and Joanne McDowell, Director for Northern Ireland of category sponsor, Big Lottery Fund. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Michael McKillop with Jackie Fullerton. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Winners all: Telegraph Sports Star of the Year Michael Conlan, flanked by Coach of the Year Michael O’Neill and Hall of Fame entrant Martin O’Neill
Local Heroes award winner: Aisling Reilly is presented with her trophy by GAA Tyrone Manager Mickey Harte and Brian Henning, Chair of Sport Northern Ireland. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Special recognition award goes to Crossmaglen's Paul Hearty. Paul Hearty is presented with his trophy by Belfast Giant's Matt Nickerson and Robert Cairns, Volvo Parts Manager of category sponsor Volvo. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Special recognition award goes to Crossmaglen's Paul Hearty. Photo: Paul Hearty aand Claire McCollum. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Young Team of the Year goes to the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Youth squad. Conor Ferguson, Danielle Hill, Ben Fisher and James McGivern collect their award from rugby legend Tommy Bowe and Muriel O'Grady, chair of the SUBWAY Ireland Marketing Board and franchisee. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Erin Cassidy, Julia McCann, Ella Rourke, Eile Bradley, Cara Gordon and Michela McAvoy pictured at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Peter Spratt with his daughter Lucy pictured at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Ben Fisher and Angel Reyes pictured at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Eileen Logan and Debby Armstrong
Sarah Shimmons, Michael O'Neill and Paddy Barnes
Carol McMenamin, Joanne Hayden and Jane Rowe
Gail Walker and Neil Lennon
Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Pat Jennings
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with boxer Michael Conlan pictured at the awards night. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th January 2016 - Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast. Steven Beacom pictured at the awards night.   Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th January 2016 - Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast. Guests at the awards night.   Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th January 2016 - Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast. Guests at the awards night.   Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th January 2016 - Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast. Stephen Baxter at the awards night.   Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th January 2016 - Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards sponsored by Linwoods 2015 at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast. Claire McCollum and Jackie Fullerton pictured at the awards night.   Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye

It was hardly surprising that English clubs soon became interested in the energetic youngster with an eye for goal.

Soon O'Neill was on his way to Nottingham Forest. You won't be shocked to learn that he scored on his league debut in 1971.

It wasn't all success though because Forest encountered a few lean years before a certain Brian Clough became manager.

That changed everything. Under Clough, O'Neill won the league title and League Cup and two European Cups in 1979 and 1980, though he only started in the latter final.

Few players ever spoke back to Clough but O'Neill had enough belief in himself to do so when he felt the need.

Learning at the feet of the master, some old Forest players say Cloughie was taught a few lessons by Martin.

After leaving Forest, O'Neill played for Norwich City, Manchester City and Notts County, but his best days were gone, not helped by a knee injury that eventually forced him to retire in 1985 when he had been hoping to make the Northern Ireland 1986 World Cup squad.

O'Neill won 64 caps in total and scored eight international goals and is rightly regarded as a Northern Ireland great.

Anyone who had ever come into contact with O'Neill the player felt he would go on to become O'Neill the manager.

He started out at non-league and would earn rave reviews at Wycombe Wanderers prior to taking over at Norwich in 1995.

If a short spell at Carrow Road didn't work out, his time in charge of Leicester would eventually become the stuff of legend.

He guided the Foxes to promotion to the Premier League, established them in the top flight, won two League Cups and led them into Europe.

In 2000 he moved on to become boss of Celtic, where the success continued. All of the domestic trophies were secured, as was a Uefa Cup final in 2003 when the Hoops lost to Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Five years after his appointment, the father of two daughters left Parkhead to care for his ill wife Geraldine. A year later he returned to management with Aston Villa. They finished sixth in the Premier League on three occasions under him.

Much like his spell at his boyhood club Sunderland which followed, he never received the recognition his efforts deserved at Villa.

Over the years many Northern Ireland fans had hoped O'Neill would become manager of the country he played for with distinction.

In 2013 though he took over as Republic of Ireland boss and has inspired them to reach the Euro 2016 finals.

Martin's is a career filled with highlights and you get the feeling he is not finished yet.

Martin O'Neill is a welcome addition to the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame.

Belfast Telegraph

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