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Neil Lennon hails impact of inspirational O'Neills

By Steven Beacom

Former Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon has hailed Martin O'Neill as the best manager he ever played under and labelled Michael O'Neill as an inspiration for the country.

Bolton boss Lennon was speaking at Monday night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards where both O'Neills, bound for the Euro 2016 finals in the summer, were big winners at the glittering ceremony at the Ramada Plaza hotel.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin, who captained the Northern Ireland team at the 1982 World Cup finals, was inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame, joining an illustrious list of sporting greats including football icons such as Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong, who presented him with his award.

Northern Ireland boss Michael was named manager of the Year after leading the team to Euro 2016 - there were also other prizes for his side as they picked up the Team of the Year trophy and skipper Steven Davis claimed the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year award.

Lennon played alongside the younger O'Neill for Northern Ireland and played for the elder one at Leicester City and Celtic.

Lennon and the latter enjoyed much success together with the Foxes and Hoops and he paid a glowing tribute to his mentor.

"Martin was the best manager I played under. No doubt about it," said Lennon (pictured), who went on to manage Celtic himself.

"As a motivator he was fantastic and technically and tactically he was very astute.

"What Martin did at Leicester and Celtic was outstanding. It was great to play in his teams.

"He was a great player and he went on to become a great manager. His record is superb and he continues to impress. Taking the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2016 was another great achievement."

Speaking about Northern Ireland's qualification for France, Lennon stated: "What Michael has done deserves respect.

"I am not sure many people expected Northern Ireland to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals at the start of the campaign but they did it in style by topping their group.

"Michael has given the players great belief and it shows in their play. I think it is inspirational for the country.

"The last time Northern Ireland qualified for a major tournament was the World Cup finals in 1986. People like myself and Michael were inspired by that and now youngsters growing up will feel inspired by this generation going to play at a big tournament.

"The Euro 2016 finals are going to be pretty special," added Lennon, who will be working as a pundit for the BBC at the finals.

Lennon has endured a testing spell as manager of Bolton, with the club in huge debt and struggling at the bottom of the Championship.

Recently, the Bolton boss organised a whipround for staff at the club who had not been paid their wages.

On Saturday, Bolton earned a rare victory - 3-1 at home to MK Dons - and the Lurgan man is hoping that they can finish the season strongly and avoid relegation despite all the financial problems at the club.

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill has sympathy for Lennon, but believes he will become a better manager for the experience.

"It has been very tough for Neil at Bolton," said O'Neill.

"Financial problems are never easy at a club for a manager, players and the staff but I know Neil is doing his best to keep things going there and he got a good result at the weekend which will have given everyone a little lift.

"When a manager goes through a difficult experience it can actually make you stronger and better for the future and I'm sure that will be the case for Neil."

Bolton do not play in the Championship again until next month, but host Leeds United in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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