Belfast Telegraph

Marvellous O'Neill deserves all the plaudits he gets, says Armstrong

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland great Gerry Armstrong has paid tribute to Michael O'Neill after the international manager was named Sportsperson of the Year at the Ulster Tatler Sports Awards on Thursday night.

O'Neill was presented with the accolade after leading Northern Ireland to their first major championships in 30 years when they qualified for Euro 2016 in France, as well as guiding them into the last 16 where they were extremely unfortunate to lose 1-0 to Wales.

The awards ceremony also fell on the same day it was revealed that the Northern Ireland fans in France would be acknowledged for their excellent support at the Euros.

Armstrong, who picked up the Lifetime Achievement award at Thursday night's event as well as being inducted into the Hall of Fame, says the work O'Neill put in over the last two years made him a worthy recipient of the coveted prize.

"It's not just this year, it's last year as well," the 62-year-old, who famously scored Northern Ireland's winner against hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup, said. "Michael's been absolutely magnificent.

"To top the group and qualify for the Euros and then to do what they did, he deserves all the plaudits and the credit that he gets. He's a top man."

O'Neill is now attempting to take Northern Ireland to back-to-back major tournaments as they look to successfully reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

His team opened their campaign with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic in Prague and will return to action in October against San Marino at Windsor Park before travelling to Hannover to face Germany.

Armstrong believes that, after the positive start, there's no reason why O'Neill can't emulate Billy Bingham and guide the country to two consecutive finals.

"It was a good point, it was a really well earned point," the former Spurs striker said of the draw in Prague. "In the first half we were by far the better side, but that was a young side, there were five or six new players.

"In the second half we were so lucky it was untrue, we could have been two or three nil down and we couldn't have argued."

Looking ahead to the future of the group, he commented: "Physically, Germany are bigger and stronger than us and to beat them, or even draw with them, would be a humongous success and a real shock.

"But we could cause a huge shock here and there. We might beat them at home, we might draw away, I think we'll get something out of them.

"As long as we beat the Czech Republic (at home) and Norway then we should be okay.

"We should finish second and that gets us in a good position to qualify."

Armstrong also said he wouldn't begrudge O'Neill a move to a more lucrative job, as it looked like he might do when he was linked with the vacant Celtic role, but expects the 47-year-old to finish off this campaign with the Green and White Army.

"I would be disappointed if Michael wasn't still here at the end of the campaign," he admitted.

"I know Michael, he's not the type of person to just pack it in, I think he'll see it through to the end. But if he decides to move on after that then good luck to him, I have no problems with that."

Belfast Telegraph


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