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McFaul sure he has the right man

The man who gave Michael O'Neill his big chance in the professional game is now predicting an exciting new chapter for Northern Ireland.

Willie McFaul gave O'Neill a shot at the big time when he secured his signature at Newcastle United in 1987 - beating off a strong challenge from Dundee United for the Portadown-born youngster, who was then plying his trade at Coleraine.

United boss McFaul, himself from Coleraine, was able to use all his Ulster charm and persuasive powers to bring the promising youngster to Tyneside.

O'Neill, who was still a teenager when his cross-channel career kicked off, went on to make 48 appearances for United, scoring 15 goals.

In the 1987-1988 season he was the club's top goalscorer with 12 goals, playing alongside a teenage Paul Gascoigne.

O'Neill also played alongside Mirandinha - the first Brazilian footballer to grace the British game.

Former Northern Ireland international McFaul, also known as Iam, is now sending his old comrade a good luck message.

"I'm delighted Michael has got the job," he said.

"I hope he does well though I'm a bit surprised he has taken on the job at this stage of his managerial career.

"Michael was making great progress as a club manager with Shamrock Rovers and he could have kept doing that but he obviously sees this is an exciting opportunity and while international football is a huge step up, I'm sure he will do a good job.

"I think it's great that a Northern Ireland man has got the job - I thought that was very important. I know everyone doesn't share that opinion but for me that's important.

"He will have a lot of contacts in the game and his training methods have proved to be very successful at Rovers so hopefully he can carry that expertise with him into the Northern Ireland job."

McFaul has fond memories of O'Neill the player, adding: "He was a very good player for me. He was a young boy then but he scored goals and was a very clever player. Michael has always been a very astute guy.

"He knows the difference between right and wrong and perhaps he will surprise a few people as Northern Ireland manager."

Meanwhile, when Northern Ireland lock horns with Finland in a friendly international at Windsor Park in August, O'Neill will come up against a familiar face.

Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen took O'Neill with him as his assistant at lowly Central Park, Cowdenbeath seven years ago.

Paatelainen is delighted his old Dundee United pal has followed him into the illustrious world of international management.

"It is amazing how things have developed in a short space of time but it is nice that we will meet up to play again," said Paatelainen, who is back in Scotland for the festive season.

"Somehow we have managed to fix up a friendly before the appointment was made. They have got some great players and Mick's knowledge in football will enhance the team.

"I didn't quite teach him everything that he knows at Central Park, but it was a good time for us.

"We worked well together, Mick is a good coach, an intelligent guy and a really good person so I am delighted to hear that he is going to Northern Ireland.

"He is a deep thinker, an intelligent guy who thinks about the game and that is why he has been such a success. You can see him taking on top European teams and countries and doing wonderfully well so I am not surprised."

Belfast Telegraph