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Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2019: O’Neill leads treble triumph for Northern Ireland sides


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Green machine: the Northern Ireland side are our Team of the Year for 2019 (Platinum section)

Green machine: the Northern Ireland side are our Team of the Year for 2019 (Platinum section)

©INPHO/Brain Little

Top coach: Michael O’Neill, who was managing Stoke City last night, won the Coach of the Year award for his exploits with Northern Ireland

Top coach: Michael O’Neill, who was managing Stoke City last night, won the Coach of the Year award for his exploits with Northern Ireland

PA

On ball: Callum Ferris of the NI U21s, who won our Young Team of the Year prize

On ball: Callum Ferris of the NI U21s, who won our Young Team of the Year prize

Green machine: the Northern Ireland side are our Team of the Year for 2019 (Platinum section)

Michael O’Neill and Northern Ireland did the double at the 2019 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards last night.

On a successful evening for the boss and his national team, there was also an award for the Northern Ireland Under-18 side.​

O’Neill was named the Manager/Coach of the Year (Platinum section) at the glittering ceremony.

Now manager of Stoke City, as well as his country, O’Neill could not attend the event as his club side were involved in a crucial Championship encounter with top of the table West Bromwich Albion last night.

O’Neill, who has regularly attended the Awards in the past, sent a video message outlining his pride and joy at being selected for the honour.

The Northern Ireland boss has virtually made the prize his own in recent years. He was just as pleased that his players won the Team of the Year award in the Platinum category.

Together, O’Neill and his side continue to produce heroics for the Green and White Army.

In 2019, while not qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals — albeit with the play-offs to come in March — there were still moments to treasure in what turned out to be an eventful and busy year.

For O’Neill and Northern Ireland, it started with a 2-0 win at home to Estonia in March in the Euro qualifiers when Niall McGinn and Steven Davis from the penalty spot grabbed the goals. They followed that up with an exciting 2-1 success over Belarus at Windsor Park as Jonny Evans and Josh Magennis found the target.​

O’Neill inspired another couple of victories on the road against the same opposition in June with Conor Washington and Magennis scoring late goals in a 2-1 comeback triumph in Estonia before, a few days later, Paddy McNair struck in the closing stages to earn a 1-0 win in Belarus.

Those four successive qualifying victories, followed by beating Luxembourg 1-0 in a friendly, set up a rousing finale for the campaign.​

There was a thrilling night at Windsor in September when O’Neill’s side went toe-to-toe with the mighty Germany amid a crackling atmosphere only to go down 2-0. Then came a 3-1 defeat in Holland after Magennis had given Northern Ireland the lead.​

Northern Ireland drew 0-0 with the Dutch in Belfast in November prior to an understrength side going down 6-1 in Germany after Michael Smith had given the visitors a shock lead. There was also a 3-2 friendly triumph in the Czech Republic with McNair scoring a delightful double.​

Before the final double-header in November, O’Neill was offered the chance to become Stoke City boss. He accepted the post but a deal was struck so that he could stay with Northern Ireland for the Euro 2020 play-offs in March. The fans hope he will stick around to guide the team to the finals if they get there.​

O’Neill has always taken a keen interest in the players at Irish FA youth level. The Northern Ireland Under-18 squad had plenty to celebrate in 2019 as they clinched the Centenary Shield — a superb achievement which saw them walk away with the Young Team of the Year prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

Frankie Wilson’s team overcame the Republic of Ireland 3-1 in April for Centenary Shield glory with a brace from Callum Ferris and another from Andrew Whiteside enough to win the tournament in which Northern Ireland earned three wins and a draw.

Belfast Telegraph