O'Neill will lose out again, says old sparring partner

THE coach who tormented Martin O’Neill the last time he was involved in such a closely-fought title race has predicted that the Celtic manager will suffer another final-day championship heartache.

After last night’s victory over Motherwell, Celtic are approaching the climax of a titanic Premierleague title tussle with Rangers which is almost impossible to call, but O’Neill has already suffered the agony of being pipped in the tightest of circumstances.

That was back in 1992 when his Wycombe Wanderers side were thrashing all-comers in the Conference on the way to a 94-point haul. The only trouble was that another side was doing exactly the same, and on the final day of the season Colchester United were promoted ahead of O’Neill’s side on goal difference.

Colchester were managed by Roy McDonough, who also doubled as the team’s centre forward, and he managed to wind up O’Neill all season before applying the coup de grace on the final day.

The player-boss had publicly questioned O’Neill’s bottle, which led to the Northern Irishman branding him arrogant, and McDonough repeatedly taunted Wycombe on the pitch. In one game he instructed his players to showboat as much as possible and in another he played an entire team out of position.

He has clearly lost none of his desire to wind up O’Neill by predicting that history will repeat itself and that Rangers will be crowned champions on Sunday, 25 May.

McDonough said: "Looking at it over the season I think Rangers have played the better football and I think they deserve to be champions this season. Martin makes his players work very hard and his style is very direct. It works but if there is any doubt he will tell his players to lump the ball in the corner and hold it there."

The 1992 season saw Wycombe win more games but Colchester triumph by nine goals, having finished the campaign two short of three figures. McDonough reckoned he had won the psychological battle as well.

He said: "The rivalry between us was strong. I made a couple of remarks in the local paper saying they would bottle it and they got back to Martin. Martin called me and wanted to know why I was winding people up.

"In December we beat them 3-0 at home and when we were three-up with 20 minutes to go the ball went out and a ball boy threw it back to me. I looked at Martin on the bench and shouted to my players ‘no more goals, let’s play keep-ball’.

"We must have strung together 27, 28, 29 passes and Martin knew then we were taking the p***.

"The following week we played Wycombe again in the Bob Lord Trophy, which was a Mickey Mouse competition. So I played myself as sweeper and put the defenders up front. Wycombe won 6-2 and the Conference wanted to fine me 500, but they couldn’t because I had played my first team.

"We made it to the FA Trophy final that year as well and Martin was the commentator for Sky. He called me an arrogant so-and-so on live TV."

The rivalry between the two clubs that was created that season still lingers, and McDonough remembered a later game at Wycombe that ended with tempers being lost.

He said: "We beat them 5-2 and I put a left-footer in the top corner. Afterwards I waved goodbye to the Wycombe fans, who were going mental, and Alan Parry, the TV commentator who is a director there, tried to get me arrested for starting a riot."

McDonough may have got the better of O’Neill in 1992, but it is the Northern Irishman who has gone on to bigger and better things. While O’Neill prepares for a UEFA Cup final with Porto later in the month, McDonough is selling cars in Colchester.

He said: "I’m not surprised he has done well because he is a winner and he has always been his own man. I saw he has not signed his new contract and I don’t think he will be at Celtic much longer.

"He was very cute when he turned down Nottingham Forest because Brian Clough was a legend and it would have been very difficult to succeed him."

The two managers were not always at loggerheads, however. McDonough said: "I remember one New Year’s Eve having a 45-minute conversation with Martin along the lines of me coming to work with him. "We would have been a good partnership because we are both ruthless and we are both winners."