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The Managers: Martin O’Neill, 1995-2000

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Club Historian John Hutchinson continues his series on Leicester City’s managers with a feature on one of the most successful and popular figures to hold the post, Martin O'Neill.

O’Neill’s four-and-a-half seasons as manager at City won him an honoured place in the Club’s history.

Born in Kilrea in Northern Ireland, Martin had a background in Gaelic football. He also played soccer at youth level before joining Distillery in 1971, with whom he won the Irish Cup, scoring twice in the final.

In the following season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup Martin scored against FC Barcelona, before quitting his law degree at Queen’s University in Belfast in October 1971, to join Nottingham Forest, managed by the ex-Leicester City manager Matt Gillies.

 

Under Brian Clough, meanwhile, O’Neill was in the Forest sides which won promotion to the top flight in 1977, the First Division league title in 1978, the League Cup in 1978 and 1979, as well as the European Cup in 1979 and 1980.

 

Between 1981 and 1984, Martin played top flight football for Norwich City, Manchester City and Notts County. He also won 64 caps for Northern Ireland between 1971 and 1984, captaining the side at the World Cup finals in Spain in 1982.


O'Neill regularly had City challenging in the top half and for domestic cup honours.

 

After a knee injury forced his retirement in 1985, he managed Grantham Town and Shepshed Charterhouse before moving to Wycombe Wanderers in 1990.

In addition to winning the FA Trophy in 1991 and 1993, Martin led the Chairboys into the Football League in 1993, into the third tier via the Play-Offs in 1994, and only just missed out on promotion to the second tier in 1995.

This success led to his appointment as Norwich City’s manager in June 1995, but following his resignation in December 1995, on the day his side were due to play manager-less Leicester City, he became the new manager at Filbert Street.

O’Neill won only three of his first 16 games, a sequence which culminated in an angry crowd demonstration after a home defeat to Sheffield United.

However, aided by new signings Steve Claridge, Neil Lennon, Julian Watts and Muzzy Izzet, initially on loan, the team then won six of their last eight games and sneaked into the Play-Offs.

Claridge’s ‘shinned’ goal four seconds from the end of extra-time in the Wembley Play-Off Final against Crystal Palace secured promotion to the Premier League.

 

Over the next four seasons, Academy product Emile Heskey emerged and, amongst others, the likes of Kasey Keller, Steve Guppy, Matt Elliott, Robbie Savage, Tony Cottee, Ian Marshall, Gerry Taggart, Frank Sinclair, Tim Flowers and Stan Collymore joined the Club.

These seasons saw four consecutive top half Premier League finishes, three League Cup finals, two of which ended with wins and two qualifications for the UEFA Cup.

Off the field, the Club was listed on the Stock Exchange, there were board room tensions, attempts by Everton and Leeds United to appoint O’Neill as their manager and plans for a new stadium on Bede Island.

In June 2000, O’Neill left to manage Celtic, where he won seven domestic trophies in five years and reached the UEFA Cup final. He later managed Aston Villa, Sunderland and the Republic of Ireland, before taking the post at Sky Bet Championship side Nottingham Forest in January 2019.

 

https://www.lcfc.com/news/1087723/the-managers-martin-oneill-19952000

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4 and a half years, always seemed so much longer.

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20 minutes ago, RoboFox said:

Seems strange to say it, but still to this day, after everything that's happened - probably my favourite manager. 

 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I'm looking back through adolescent blue-tinted specs... But he had an aura about him that I loved as a kid.

 

And f**k me that team he built was good.

 

Yes, he was a superb manager and probably my favourite too.

 

He created the team almost from scratch and it was tremendously under rated in my book - Just about got there with Emile and Collymore upfront and then Celtic came in and took him away.

 

How times have changed!

 

 

Edited by Crazy Kop Corner

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I had been thinking that the achievements of the O'Neill era had largely been superseded by what we achieved in 2015/16 and the size and stature of the club since.

 

When I think about it now I realise that we haven't yet been able to manage what MON did. That's 4 consecutive top half finishes and never looking in danger of relegation. That's quite some going and was pretty hard to achieve then as it is now.

 

How quickly it unravelled after he left - but we'll leave that to the next instalment.

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Agree with the 'aura' comment above. He just seemed to get it done, and I've never had so much confidence in a manager being able to send a Leicester team out to get a result when it mattered. The only big game we lost in that period was the 99 league cup final.

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Made us youngsters think Wembley finals, cup wins, Europe and top ten Premier League football was the norm.

 

He did ok, I suppose.

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1 hour ago, RoboFox said:

Seems strange to say it, but still to this day, after everything that's happened - probably my favourite manager. 

 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I'm looking back through adolescent blue-tinted specs... But he had an aura about him that I loved as a kid.

 

And f**k me that team he built was good.

 

I know what you mean, he was here for nearly 5 years and we were successful nearly every season for a very ordinary club and it was just a magical time. Obviously what we achieved under Ranieri was beyond words but it didn't and still doesn't feel real. nIt was also very quickly over, where as we had a long time to really enjoy the O'Neill years.

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The Wembley trips under first Brian Little and then MON especially the League Cup ones became an annual procession and spawned rituals that we ended up looking forward to and doing every year, magical times even when we lost.

 

History does matter if you've experienced it as it's a deeply emotional thing.

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My favourite manager too.

 

I think that his strength was sheer force of personality,  He is somebody that could read out a shopping list and still have me transfixed.  Huge charisma.  I bet he made the players feel 10 feet tall.

 

Such a shame that the relationship with the fans was forever sullied by that Sheff United game, he never forgave us and we still never learn.

 

 

 

Edited by murphy
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We had a great period under O'Neill, only beaten of course by the league triumph, with consistent top 10 finishes in the Premier League, cup finals and cup wins. Great manager.

 

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My fav manager. And I think that's because of his success with us and just as importantly his charisma and personality. I like the way he speaks, very thoughtfully and intelligently. He's got a nice charm about him. A very clever man, a clever manager, and he seemed great at man-management. 

 

I missed out on 92' against blackburn but went to all the wembley games since and that's mostly thanks to MON. Strangely though, despite saying this. I remember as a kid being more pissed off about Little going to Villa than MON going to Celtic. 

Edited by smr
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Oh, another thing. I love the way he wore his boots even as manager, and still does today.... 

 

He still does, was wearing his boots and trackies against derby the other week. Love his mannerisms as well and the way he turns around and punches the air etc. haha

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Definitely my favourite ever manager. He was not only highly successful but he also had such charisma. His interviews were so entertaining and his man management skills were second to none.  I recall how he used to put Savage, who clearly had the ego the size of a small country, firmly in his place in his after match comments by saying things like, "I've told Robbie that when he wins the ball he needs to give it straight to someone who can play football." I also remember how he got invited to be on the BBC's panel for the 1998 World Cup and they had Robbie Williams as a guest. O'Neill looked him in the face and said something like, "To be fair, Robbie, you've done much better than I thought as I'll be honest I always thought Gary Barlow was the talented one!" Comedy gold!

 

And I loved the fact that the team he built had so much character. There were some huge and difficult personalities in that team but he was always fully in control. He signed some superb players for us for very small fees eg Flowers, Elliot, Lennon, Izzet, Claridge, to name but a few.

 

God. 

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2 hours ago, Ric Flair said:

I know what you mean, he was here for nearly 5 years and we were successful nearly every season for a very ordinary club and it was just a magical time. Obviously what we achieved under Ranieri was beyond words but it didn't and still doesn't feel real. nIt was also very quickly over, where as we had a long time to really enjoy the O'Neill years.

Agree with that. The title win was too big & crazy to really take in. More like a film I once saw than something that actually happened.

And we seem to have more or less floundered since them. Fans as well as the team & managers.

Hopefully, BR can spark something again, but I have to say I've got my doubts.

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41 minutes ago, smr said:

My fav manager. And I think that's because of his success with us and just as importantly his charisma and personality. I like the way he speaks, very thoughtfully and intelligently. He's got a nice charm about him. A very clever man, a clever manager, and he seemed great at man-management. 

 

I missed out on 92' against blackburn but went to all the wembley games since and that's mostly thanks to MON. Strangely though, despite saying this. I remember as a kid being more pissed off about Little going to Villa than MON going to Celtic. 

Even my DAD complained about Little going to Villa, (and not much about MON to Celtic), (my Dad being a bone fide rugby fan above all - it normally takes something special for any other sport to be noticed.)

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Consistency. So hard to win stuff and win it again but he did. Legend.

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Alongside Ranieri as being Leicester's greatest manager. Always felt though Martin had unfinished business here, if wasn't for a smaller budget and poor ground at the time then I think Martin could have took the Foxes to the champions league. I think the time for Martin to have had returned would have been after Ranieri left in 2017, with the squad we had then it would have been interesting to have seen what he could have developed then. 

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Superb manager. Was an exceptional period in our history. 2 league cups, a league cup runner up appearance, 2 european campaigns, great league finishes and some of the most iconic goals of my memory as a fan.

 

Im thinking collymore v sunderland, izzet v spurs, guppy v chelsea, elliotts header vs villa in the league cup semi....

 

Great times

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6 hours ago, RoboFox said:

Seems strange to say it, but still to this day, after everything that's happened - probably my favourite manager. 

 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I'm looking back through adolescent blue-tinted specs... But he had an aura about him that I loved as a kid.

 

And f**k me that team he built was good.

 

I agree. O'Neill gave us something to shout about and really brought the club to the fore. 

He hasn't moved with he times though, which is a pity.

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For that magical moment against Crystal Palace at Wembley, which is the only time in that I've ever experienced real life pass in slow motion, and which was followed by about 30 seconds of utter screaming mad gutteral joy, when I ended up a few rows away from where I'd started, Martin O'Neill and his team have my eternal gratitude. 

 

:scarf:

 

I don't even care that he now manages Forest.  I hope he gets them promoted. 

 

My God I've mellowed with age.  

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