Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill’s parents have said they are “immensely proud” of their son’s achievements.
Des and Pat O’Neill, from Ballymena, have witnessed the highs and lows of Michael’s career, both as a player and manager, and they are in no doubt that leading Northern Ireland to next summer’s European Championship finals tops the lot.
The couple, from the Brigadie area of the town, watched on with pride as O’Neill masterminded the 3-1 win over Greece which booked Northern Ireland’s place in next year’s tournament in France.
“We watched the game at home - I think it would have been too much for us at Windsor Park,” laughed Pat.
“I was overwhelmed almost because his first couple of years in the job were almost disastrous,” said Des.
“And then when this campaign started, it started so well, with away wins which Northern Ireland aren’t renowned for.
“After about three or four matches I thought ‘they must have a chance’ especially with home matches coming up.
Northern Ireland have maybe faltered at times at home in the past but they never looked like faltering this time.
“Michael always felt fairly confident. He thought after the draw that they would definitely reach the play-offs and once they got the first two or three victories under their belts, I remember asking him how he felt about it now and he said he thought they had a great chance of qualifying.
“He put a tremendous effort into it. He was living here and he moved back to Edinburgh because he found himself going to watch club matches and not able to get home until the following day.
“The public at large maybe thought he had very little experience for international management, other than having played at that level.
“We just couldn’t believe it at times because it has happened in a relatively short period of time. There are managers who mange for years and maybe never get beyond the level they’re at.
“I have to admit we’re pretty well astounded at what has happened.
“I thought at half-time Northern Ireland had played Greece out of the game and I said to Pat ‘if they get a second goal here it’s all over’ and then after the third goal Greece were never going to come back from that.
“We had a phone call minutes after the match ended from our son Sean who lives in Chicago and when he was home in the summer he said to me ‘I have a feeling I’ll be holidaying in France next year’!”
Northern Ireland’s qualification also means that Des and Pat will be dusting down their passports in preparation for a family adventure.
“If we’re fit and well! We’ll let the children organise it and we’ll just go along with the flow!” laughs Pat.