Martin O’Neill: what went right?


If there is a hierarchy of Celtic royalty – those most of us would feel nervous in front of, Martin O’Neill is sitting on the throne.  For those of us who are old enough, his impact on our lives is significant.

When he arrived in 2000, Celtic were marooned in the wilderness.  An against-the-odds title win in 1998 was a fading memory as the Rangers motor picked up pace: 11 titles in 12 seasons, most of them won with plenty to spare.

On 26 August 2000, the world changed.  Nothing has been the same since.  We put six goals past Rangers, announcing not only that we were likely to win the league, but that this time, the foundations were built on granite.  We lost five leagues in the 19 years since then, but even those seasons were tight, five won and lost on the final day.  Martin was the enzyme for all of this.

His tactics were beautifully simple: be hard in the middle of the park, get the ball down the wing, have players there who can cross the ball, and have the best headers of the ball in the business there to attack those crosses.

It worked and then it stopped working.  Alex McLeish won a treble with lesser players, because he figured out that playing three up against our back three was practically kryptonite to Celtic.  Tactically, Martin had been rumbled, but his magical quality was never tactics.

Listen now to any of the players he had at Celtic and the respect they hold him in remains absolute.  His sheer presence blew them away when he first met them in 2000, and for the next five years.  They would run through walls for him.  If he said “You’re one of the best players in this league” they played like one of the best players in the league, such was their faith in Martin.

Training sessions were left to others, tactical changes were anathema, key recruitment resources were largely SPL opponents and Match of the Day.  The model had many weaknesses and would inevitably crash.  Just as when Dalglish left Stein a generation earlier, when Larsson left O’Neill, the magic disappeared.

You and I know Martin’s tactical weaknesses at Celtic, so does he.  He knows more about the management game than any of us, so he evolved; eventually, but this was not his natural territory.  He was always playing catch up.  The game has moved on and Martin’s principle strength, that significant force of personality, was never going to be enough.

He arrived in a militant Nottingham Forest dressing room that had seen off other managers.  Roy Keane was his enforcer.  If that’s all there was to the game, Forest would have flourished, but this is not the 60s.  You can’t bully your way to authority.

I’ve seen enough managers and players to know they all ‘move on’ sooner than we do, and I’ve no illusions that Martin is an exception to this.  He is an intelligent man and entitled to find things other than Celtic to fill his life.  But still, Celtic Park is his, that is where his throne waits.  He won the European Cup for Forest, not Celtic, but he changed our lives forever.  For that, I will be eternally grateful, and always nervous in his company.

Click Here for Comments >

About Author


  1. Since when was having no money for transfer fee’s a good thing? Stupid huns just don’t get it.

  2. BHOYLO – if Bayo had played first half I think he could have bagged 1-2 more, so many good deliveries and no one on the end of them. He missed a couple but at least he was there and getting his head on to the ball.


    Lenny has said several times he wants quick balls into the box and for the team to be more about the CFs than the CHs. It will be interesting to see how he uses Bayo, OE and Griff in the coming weeks. We have three fit strikers not to mention Shved, Sinclair, MJ, Forrest, Hayes and Morgan all primed for delivery.


    Could be a return to the good old days of scoring for fun when we start to click :)

  3. LENNYBHOY on 29TH JUNE 2019 1:11 PM


    ULSTER-CELT on 29TH JUNE 2019 12:21 PM



    Peraudd in the mix but other Clubs want him. Not sure I said Taylor was signing, if I did I apologise. We have though sounded out his availability. Killie wan £3 million for Taylor and O’Donnell, we are nearer £2 million for the pair.






    Apologies are mine. Your right you didn’t. Just checked back, you said there was talk of Taylor and later on you posted we had enquired.



    So the deal for Perraud is not almost completed as others have shown interest? Just checked as you said the deal was almost completed. So the left back we are singing next week will be either Perraud, Mbobo or Taylor as per your source. And of course Odonnell as right back. What about Harper you have had him signed approx 3 times earlier this month then had Lenny going down to see him and nearly signed and then negotiations ongoing.any updates.

  4. Impossible to read too much into into these preseason games. I have a dim recollection of Momo Sylla having an absolute blinder in one and we all know how SuperMo turned out.


    For what it’s worth the ghuy who stood out for me was Mikey Johnston but a competitive game where players are taking really hard whacks sorts out the men from the boys.


    Bayo & Shved & Morgan did OK but we have a long way to go before we know whether we’ve hit the jackpot with any of them.

  5. Canamalar it looks like OCD obsession on



    Seriously, are you having a pop at a supporter for sharing his news?





    I’ll stick my neck out on what I seen today, Bayo will be colossal, wel’ll be getting major offers by the end of the season.

  6. Thought gutman looked decent and bayo got himself into good areas, has a bit if presence about him. Would like to see us goimg with 4-3-3, reckon eduard, bayo and forrest or the other playera Would be a handful

  7. Johnstone is a quality young playera bit needs to make better decisions in the final 3rd,

  8. ‘GG on 29TH JUNE 2019 7:29 PM


    Courtesy of Bonfigli on Huddleboard



    Bayo 2-1









    Interesting comment from Craig Gordon at the end of that clip, ‘3 guys in the box, thats what we have been asked to do’.

  9. Deniabhoy



    The partnership with Griffiths looks interesting



    I wonder if we will see all three of Bayo, Griffiths and Edouard on the pitch at the same time



    I was thinking today how big our squad is now with more to come in

  10. I’ve just had a lovely wee phone call from BRTH, along with Pogmathonyahun, seems they have been enjoying some Cqn bonding session today in Glasgow ?

  11. Bhoylo, squad isn’t any bigger as De Vries, Izzy Gamboa, Allan, Boyata, Lustig, Toljan,Burke, Weah & Benkovic are gone, Shved, Julien & Connell in plus a few guys like Morgan who were out on loan are back, There are a few Academy Bhoys making their presence felt and I can see a few of them making the squad.


    I expect another 3 or 4 buys, however I think there again will be 5 or 6 sent on loan and I expect us to sell a couple. Hopefully Tierney won’t be among them.


    We finished last season with 33 players officially listed as first team at Celtic Park, I reckon we will be a couple down on that figure next season.

  12. UC. No. It was most likely one of my fellow boozers from the Beer Cafe this afternoon. You know who you are.

  13. 3 hours into the Boston Yankees match up and we are half way though a score fest.


    Yankees lead 17-6

  14. thoughts on todays game , 1st half lots of energy , high tempo, lots of pace and closing their players down.


    2nd half complete opposite and imo the intro of SB changed our performance ,started getting involved in personnel feuds from the off , a pre season game, come on , we are better than that , we are a better high tempo team without him it the starting 11.


    i know i will get flak but only saying imo.

  15. !!Bada Bing!! on

    ULSTER-CELT on 29TH JUNE 2019 9:03 PM


    PENFOLD on 29TH JUNE 2019 8:59 PM





    Ok. Who lifted my jacket?







    Danger mouse?



    Made me laugh there…hope jacket is returned GH

  16. I’ve watched the 2 pre-season friendliest and even taking into account the weakness of the opposition, I think we have quality in depth.



    From the oldest to the youngest, the newest recruits to the long servers, there is much to be excited about.



    And, the style of play looks a good balance between possession and getting the ball up front quickly. Nice one Neil.

  17. Corky



    You are right but we do have a LOT of midfielders who could now be classed as first team players

































    Oko Flex









    Out of all of these im not sure who i would get rid of tbh. Koussi and Mulumbu i supppse

  18. jinkyredstar on

    Ron 67


    There was a tosser with a man bun who I would have halved in two – pre-season friendly or not! Second half was a different shape, not about one player.

  19. Jaysus Bhoylo when you put it like that it’s a bit weird OK.


    You could reclassify Hayes & Bitton as defenders I suppose and Shved & Morgan as wingers & maybe one of the Johnsons as a striker, loan out Mulumbu & sell Sinclair, subtract your first thoughts & pray that Lenny doesn’t buy McNair.

  20. Great day out today with some top CQNERS



    Special mention to Marc, Andy, Jim, David and Terry.



    Lennybhoy it was a pleasure to meet you at last as I thought a top guy. Terry not sure of you blog name but any man from Gotahork is up there with the best. A real gent. Jim great stories as always I will pass on you regards as requested.



    Now 2 year old grandson to get to bed. Life is good



    Any news as always i will share



    Hail Hail and goodnight ???

  21. ‘GG on 29TH JUNE 2019 9:13 PM



    3 hours into the Boston Yankees match up and we are half way though a score fest.



    Yankees lead 17-6






    Had it over 11.5 runs @ 10/11.



    Cincinnati & Detroit letting the bet down just now.



    Early days yet though, good thing about betting overs on the baseball is that you are never beat until the game is finished.



    HH. ? ⚾

  22. the formation in the second half today does not stop you playing a high tempo , closing the opposition down , selected individuals do.

  23. Yeah sell one of the Johnson Twins ?



    I can’t see McNair signing to be honest.



    Btw that number 8 who scored the free kick today can strike a ball. He hit one from farther out in the first half that caused Bain a problem or two



    Proper knuckle ball technique



    Would love a player like that

  24. Celticrollercoaster......Hail, Hail Cesar on




    It was a good wee gathering and a pleasure to say hail hail







  25. bigrailroadblues on

    Good evening all from the star bar. And the karaoke that would incite serious public disorder. ?

  26. bigrailroadblues on

    UC. Not that I’m aware of. And strangely enough I’ve got my Blue Oyster Cult t shirt on. Spooky. ?

  27. Celticrollercoaster......Hail, Hail Cesar on




    Dangermouse has your jacket and Mrs Penfold says you’re no getting out again! :-)







Do Not Sell My Personal Information