Martin O'Neill

Martin O’Neill, 1995-2000

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.
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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.

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Martin O'Neill & Steve Claridge
Martin O'Neill & Steve Claridge

Celebrating the 1997 League Cup success with goalscorer Steve Claridge.

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.

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Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

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

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 - a position he left on 28 June, 2019.

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