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O'Neill restores Sunderland mojo

In a soccer season that has already had its fair share of incredible results, the New Year's weekend fixtures did not disappoint, with the supposed bit players transformed into matinée idols.

While the results of Villa at Stamford Bridge and particularly Blackburn at Old Trafford were shocks, I think it's fair to say that an ageing Chelsea are on the wane and United's defence was ravaged through injury.

The Stadium of Light was the real seismic event, with Sunderland's walking wounded turning over the Manchester City juggernaut with a winner in the last four seconds. Sunderland may not have Quinny at the helm anymore, and the days of multiple charter flights across the Irish Sea on match day are a thing of the past, but the former City and Sunderland player may have done his best business for the Black Cats yet by attracting Martin O'Neill to Wearside.

A stuttering non-performing team under Steve Bruce is rapidly showing the spirit and resolve that signal a revival in fortune. The roar that greeted the winner could probably have been heard as far away as Newcastle, their bitter north-east rivals.

Sixteen months was far too long for a manager of Martin O'Neill's talents to be away from the game and boy, have we missed him. Not for him the jacket and tie, but the tracksuit of the true coach, reminding us of that other famous tracksuited manager, Brian Clough, who guided Nottingham Forest (and O'Neill) to European glory, while eschewing the pinstripe in favour of the grotty green top and bedraggled tracksuit bottoms.

O'Neill's attire may be neater and his pronouncements more erudite, but his reading of the game and his ability to motivate are the equivalent of Oul' Big 'Ead. His trademark celebratory leap capped the fine performance that his uber-motivated team produced last Sunday.

There will probably be tough times ahead for the Wearsiders, but it's clear that Martin O'Neill has already brought back the mojo to the Stadium of Light.

Mark Lawler

Candystripe Coyle bucked the trend

Seán Ryan [Jan 1] suggests that the appointment of Michael O'Neill as Northern Ireland manager represented the first time in 77 years that the Belfast-based Irish Football Association had recognised the achievements of someone competing in the Republic of Ireland's premier league.

This is not the case, as Liam Coyle was capped by Northern Ireland while playing for Derry City in the League of Ireland in 1989. His appearance was greeted in predictable terms from some sections of the Windsor Park crowd, and he was never selected again. Events have moved on since then, but O'Neill still has quite a task on his hands in his new job.

Kevin Sheridan

Partisan attitude difficult to digest

"The genesis of this score has left an unfortunate asterisk beside the result," wrote Dermot Crowe [Dec 25].

Why Dermot? If you watched the match you would appreciate that the referee was correct to award the free as a foul was committed.

It is a well-known rule that in a situation where a player is fouled as the ball is being kicked, the free is awarded from where the ball lands.

Garrycastle would have much more cause for complaint in light of the refereeing of the game. They had three yellow cards awarded against them early in the game for pretty innocuous fouling. Such partisan journalism is difficult to digest.

Perhaps you had the headlines drafted "fairytale year for Dublin football" as RTE Six One news did when running a piece on St Brigid's of Roscommon on the day after the game in an anticipation of a Brigid's v Brigid's All-Ireland semi-final?

Paul Dillon

Sunday Indo Sport