Tuesday 21 January 2020

'Fantastic' derby clash a huge thrill for O'Neill

Jamie Holland

Boyhood Sunderland fan Martin O'Neill admits even he did not fully understand the passion of the Tyne-Wear derby before he arrived in the north-east of England.

The Black Cats boss, who celebrated his 60th birthday this week, will lead his side into battle with arch-rivals Newcastle tomorrow, having had a chance to fully acquaint himself with the emotion surrounding the fixture.

"I didn't grow up with all the hype and the furore around about the place," O'Neill said. "It's a really passionate area. It used to be the hotbed of football. When you think of the great players that have emerged from this part of the country, it's fantastic, absolutely fantastic.

"Some of the best players who have ever played the game have come from here. You do feel it."

While it will be the Ulsterman's first taste of this particular derby, he has a wealth of experience of the Old Firm rivalry from his time as Celtic manager.

Indeed, his first derby resulted in a thumping 6-2 victory at Celtic Park which instantly endeared him to the Bhoys faithful.

It will be a first derby experience too for man-of-the-moment James McClean, who made his senior international debut for Ireland in mid-week against the Czech Republic.

"He has become very, very popular -- and he hadn't kicked a ball at that time, so when he really does well for them, it will be good news," O'Neill said.

The 22-year-old winger will hope to bring a good week to a successful conclusion by helping to end Sunderland's 12-year wait for a win at Newcastle, although McClean knows he may receive a different reception.

"I am expecting that," McClean said. "I know the rivalry having been there six months, and it's really intense.

"But I can't wait. They are really passionate about the derby up in the north-east."

Newcastle v Sunderland,

Live, ESPN, tomorrow, 12.0

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