Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill's dream year ends in winning style

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was 'humbled' to win the Coach of the Year award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show.

For O'Neill, now one of the most respected coaches in the game, it was the perfect way to end what was a dream 2015.

In October he guided Northern Ireland to the European Championship finals for the first time in the country's history and the praise has been flowing in his direction ever since.

And last night in the SSE Arena he was overwhelmed by the wonderful reception he received from the audience, all of whom stood to recognise his achievements as Portrush golfing hero Graeme McDowell and legendary athlete Denise Lewis presented him with his award.

O'Neill said: "It is amazing to be here and to have an event as big as this is something spercial. And to be here on stage as manager of my country is very special as well. It is very humbling to receive this award.

"I want to thank the Irish FA because after my first two years in charge it would have been easy for me to either move on or for the Association to look elsewhere, but we stuck together.

"I would also like to thank my backroom staff and the players who have done such an outstanding job. They come from both sides of the community and love playing for Northern Ireland."

Accompanied on the night by his proud wife Bronagh, O'Neill added: "Bronagh doesn't get to many events as she is always looking after my two amazing daughters Olivia and Erin when I am away watching football, so I'd like to thank her for the support.

"And to our fans, who know how to support their team, I want to thank them as well."

O'Neill had won the same Coach of the Year category the evening before at the annual RTE Sport awards and will be hot favourite to lift the Manager of the Year trophy at the 2015 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards next month.

He has come such a long way since being named Northern Ireland boss four years ago.

In his first campaign in charge he may have lost to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in the World Cup qualifiers, but there were signs that he was building something special with a home victory over Fabio Capello's Russia and a deserved draw in Portugal when Cristiano Ronaldo won his 100th cap.

In the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign everything clicked with Northern Ireland winnning their group in style, losing only one of their 10 games.

O'Neill's man-management skills and tactical awareness have transformed Northern Ireland, who will take on World Champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine in the Euro 2016 finals group in France.

O'Neill wasn't the only Northern Ireland football winner. Damien Lindsay, a coach from west Belfast, was presented with the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero award for 2015.

The award honours individuals from the world of grassroots sport and recognises those who, on a voluntary basis, go the extra mile to contribute to sport in their local community.

Damien formed St James Swifts FC to encourage local children to become involved in sport as opposed to anti-social behaviour. He was selected from 15 regional winners from across the UK and was presented the award in his hometown by Eddie Izzard.

Belfast Telegraph