Martin O’Neill says he is genuinely looking forward to tomorrow’s Wear-Tyne derby – one of the great occasions of English league football, writes Graeme Anderson.
And having witnessed its passion on Tyneside in March, he is looking forward to experiencing it on Wearside for the first time (1.30pm kick-off).
He told the Football Echo: “The derby last season at St James’s Park, I remember Steve Walford saying to me almost as soon as we finished the game that that was every bit as intense as the Celtic-Rangers game.
“Now for him to say that tells you a lot because we’ve experienced a few of those and they are remarkable and he really appreciated those games.
“On reflection, after that Newcastle-Sunderland game, I think he wasn’t too far wrong – I think it was every bit as hostile and intense.
“This time around, I’ll have a greater appreciation of the derby having managed in one of them, although I’m sure I’ll have a few eye-openers during the course of the 90 minutes this weekend.”
The Black Cats’ boss admits it will be difficult to fully absorb the occasion, given the responsibility that he carries.
But the Irishman says that the passion surrounding the fixture will get to everyone – even him!
“It’s something you expect to be immune to, but you never are,” he smiled.
“It always gets you going and I think that perhaps that’s the exciting thing about it.
“That’s why you look forward to games like these – you appreciate that there’s pressure on you and your players to perform.
“But you also realise what a privilege it is to be involved in a game of this nature.”
* Full story in tonight’s Football Echo