O'Neill eyes double joy after 'relief' of title glory
RELIEF. That was the prevailing emotion as Michael O'Neill made his way through swathes of delighted Shamrock Rovers followers basking in the afterglow of dramatic title success.
A nervy 2-2 draw with Bray coupled with a Bohemians win at Dalymount Park meant that an epic championship race came down to goal difference. Rovers +23, Bohemians +21. O'Neill wore the look of a man who'd been through the entire range of emotions.
"At the minute, it's relief I'm feeling more than joy," admitted the Northern Irishman. "Although I'm sure that will change later on. We didn't handle it well mentally and we only played for 10 minutes either side of half-time. But, at the end of the day, we sit top of the league after 36 games."
O'Neill acknowledged that his charges were nervous and he took the softly-softly approach at the interval rather than reading the riot act. He felt a bollocking would serve no purpose.
"The hard words have been said in the last few weeks," he said. "We needed a bit of cajoling this time. You saw a bit of fear in the eyes.
"We hadn't been in this situation before, so we just had to talk them through it. I felt that Craig Sives was immense tonight. He was the only one that really took the game by the scruff of the neck."
There was credit too for Gary Twigg, who shrugged off a hamstring problem to score one goal and make the other before limping off.
"He's a rock for us," said O'Neill, who brought the front man with him from Brechin after his appointment less than two years ago.
Now, with an FAI Cup final with Sligo on the horizon, he is looking for this success to be a stepping stone to the future -- without forgetting those who made it possible.
"Ray Wilson was in the dressing-room there, he's come all the way from Australia and he's played a big part in saving this club," he said.
"I'm delighted for all the people who kept this club alive. This is the first step of a new history that we can write for this football club."