Martin O’Neill refuses to tempt Celtic fate as he pays Ange Postecoglou the ultimate compliment


Martin O’Neill will raise a glass to Ange Postecoglou for sticking to his principles on his way to Premiership success at Parkhead.

But not yet.

It’s perhaps understandable the Celtic legend isn’t popping the champers until the title is mathematically in the bag.

O’Neill is still haunted by the sound of helicopters after the chopper changed direction on that dramatic final day stumble at Fir Park in 2005.

It’s not the kind of final day agony you forget in a hurry – and the only other title he failed to claim in his five years in Glasgow was by a single goal in the infamous last day shootout two years earlier.

The SPFL engraver is out with his chisel but those late twists will mean O’Neill will keep the celebrations on hold until the green and white ribbons are on the trophy.

He said: “Because their confidence is high and they’ve got over the final Rangers hurdle, it would be hard for them not to make it.

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“Having said that, I can go back to 2005 when we beat Rangers at Ibrox to go five points clear with four matches left.

“Then we lost at home to Hibs and lost in the last few minutes at Motherwell so don’t call it until it’s over!”

O’Neill won’t tempt fate but he does recognize the job Postecoglou has done at Parkhead this season.

There are some similarities to the beginnings of his own reign in Glasgow’s East End in 2000.

The former Leicester City boss arrived at the club on the back of a brutal previous campaign, where the John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish dream team turned in to a nightmare.

Celtic finished a whopping 21 points behind Dick Advocaat’s big spending Gers side and star men such as Mark Viduka were heading for the hills.

O’Neill turned it around in spectacular style, breaking to the title by 15 points and delivering Celtic’s first Treble since 1969.

Postecouglou was denied a similar clean sweep by Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final but they are closing in on a double that looked beyond the realms of fantasy last August.

The Aussie arguably had an even bigger rebuilding mission than O’Neill as back in 2000 at least the incoming boss had the likes of Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert, Lubo Moravcik and Styllian Petrov on the books.

Postecoglou came in as a relatively unknown quantity from the other side of the world and was forced to recruit more than a dozen new faces.

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O’Neill can’t help but be impressed with how the former Socceroos gaffer has gone about his business.

Postecoglou arrived with a grand plan – and he hasn’t wavered an inch all season.

O’Neill said: “I think it’s been a great achievement, the reasons being that he’s come in without being well known for a start and that put some Celtic fans on the back foot immediately.

“Then all you need is a really stodgy start and suddenly there were question marks all over the place regarding the nature of his game.

“But for him to stick to his beliefs when things weren’t going well. When you come into a new club and that happens then the hardest thing to do is not to change a thing.

“Watching from a distance, the impression I got from him was ‘Listen, I’ll get things right and the players I’ve brought to this football club will improve the team’ and that is exactly what’s happened. It’s been terrific.”

O’Neill reckons it’s all the more impressive given Postecoglou didn’t just need to win over the punters.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou with her award for Manager of the Year at the PFA Scotland Awards 2022

He also had to win over the staff.

The incoming boss landed on his Jack Jones and decided to stick with the coaches already at the club, with John Kennedy and Gavin Strachan retaining key roles, along with Stephen McManus and Stevie Woods.

It was a different story in 2000 when O’Neill came as a package along with John Robertson and Steve Walford.

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It was another challenge to be tackled head on but the former Celts boss is especially pleased to see Kennedy’s role recognized by the current gaffer.

The assistant boss burst in to the Hoops first team under O’Neill in 2004 but his career was cruelly struck down before it even got time to flourish.

O’Neill said: “John was obviously a young player when I was at Celtic. His career was effectively ruined within a week. I have played in two games, I have played Rangers and I have played Barcelona. He played at Ibrox and did really well and he followed it up at the Nou Camp.

“Then he got into the Scotland squad and within 10 days his career was over. Shocking, really shocking challenge.

“Because he was so young I would never have thought: ‘He is going to step up here and be a manager’.

“He was very young at the time. If Ange has come in and said he has been really helpful it is nice to hear.

“I had the advantage of being able to take two people up with me, John and Steve.

“That was great, we were very tight-knit. I had a fitness instructor who was thrust upon me, Jim Hendry. I inherited him and he was definitely the best fitness instructor I have ever had. So sometimes you can inherit somebody who is really good.

“He was excellent.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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