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Why Michael O'Neill is Northern Ireland's Sir Alex Ferguson, explains Craig Cathcart

 

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High praise: Craig Cathcart

High praise: Craig Cathcart

High praise: Craig Cathcart

Craig Cathcart has declared that the Irish FA replacing Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager is comparable to Manchester United choosing a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Watford star Cathcart says that, given the size of the task facing whoever the new Northern Ireland boss will be, it will be up to the players to help make the transition from O'Neill as smooth as possible.

Cathcart became a regular under O'Neill and, since the Euro 2016 finals, has been one of the most influential figures in the side with a series of impressive displays.

He appreciates all that O'Neill, who left the international post last week to focus on his job at Stoke City, did for him personally and the nation as a whole, suggesting it leaves the type of hole that his old club Manchester United have struggled to fill since Ferguson's departure as boss in 2013.

"Michael is going to be a massive miss. It's pretty much the same as trying to replace Alex Ferguson in Northern Ireland terms," said defender Cathcart.

"The next man coming in is going to have to live up to a really high standard and us as players will have to try and help the transition as much as possible."

Cathcart, who has won 50 caps, added: "Michael has been brilliant for Northern Ireland football and myself."

Cathcart added: “I was a young player when he came in to manage the team. He played me even when I wasn’t in top form for my club. He always showed good faith in me.

“He has been unbelievable for the country and we wish him all the best for his club career now.”

Cathcart is one of the few footballers to have played for O’Neill and Ferguson.

Now a highly respected centre-back at Watford, the 31-year-old started out as a youngster at Manchester United when Ferguson ruled the roost.

Speaking to Watford’s View from the Vic podcast, Cathcart recalled his experiences with Ferguson including one occasion when he received the Scot’s famous hairdryer treatment.

“He (Ferguson) remembers everyone’s name. I remember being over there when I was 12 and he knew my name. He also knew my mum and dad’s names. He was great that way and made you feel special,” said Cathcart.

“In terms of the hairdryer treatment, I remember my first game for the first team was in South Africa on a pre-season tour.

“We were playing at a high altitude where the ball moves a little bit differently. There were probably two or three headers that I just misjudged and they went straight over my head and at half-time coming in he basically let me know that if I missed another header I would be dragged off.

“I don’t think I missed one in the whole second half. I remember a few of the lads telling me after that he liked to test young lads and saying ‘so hopefully you have passed that test by not missing a header in the second half’.

“It was a good experience being around the first team and world class players at such a young age and trying to learn as much as possible from them.”

Cathcart was a teenager when he left home to join United. He never played a competitive game for the Red Devils but has gone to have a fine career with Blackpool and Watford, where he has shone for the last six years.

“I was 16 when I moved (to Manchester). I was just excited. I was going to Man United, the team I supported as a kid,” said Cathcart.

“All my family were United fans and I was comfortable going there because I was going over maybe four or five years on school holidays leading up to it. Being at United was a great experience and gave me the values and set me up for my whole career.”

Belfast Telegraph