MARTIN O’NEILL is desperate to end his FA Cup curse by landing the one piece of silverware which has eluded him as a player and manager.
O’Neill’s lifted league, League Cup and European trophies during his playing days at Nottingham Forest, won the League Cup twice as Leicester City manager and performed a clean sweep of the domestic honours north of the board while in charge at Celtic.
But the Sunderland boss has never got further than the semi-finals of the FA Cup, following in the footsteps of mentor and old Forest boss Brian Clough who failed to win the competition in his 26-year managerial career.
“That’s right, it was the one thing that Brian Clough never won,” said O’Neill.
“And it’s eluded me so far too.
“I got to the quarter-finals as a player with Forest in 1978 and semi-finals two years ago with Villa against Chelsea.
“That year at Forest we won the league and the League Cup, and we were going for all three trophies.
“But we got beaten in the quarter-finals at the Hawthorns by West Brom.
“On the day they deserved to beat us.
“At the time, it just felt like another day because the games were coming so thick and fast. But a week later it sunk in, you realised that was the FA Cup and the chance to win it had gone.
“In our day, the FA Cup was really important, but because we had game after game, to lose against West Brom just felt like a normal game.
“But we had a great chance that year. Ipswich eventually went on to win it.”
Since O’Neill’s playing days, the FA Cup has lost some of its magic, with the country’s heavyweights now prioritising the Premier League title and the Champions League.
But O’Neill insists he still believes in the magic of the competition as Sunderland look to earn a place in the fifth round against Middlesbrough this weekend.
“It’s a shame the way it’s gone over the last few years,” he said.
“I can understand teams not fielding their strongest side because the Premiership is the be-all and end-all, the Holy Grail and you need to be there.
“And Manchester United not playing in the competition one year because they had to go and improve the World Club Championship, meant it just lost a bit of the shine.
“I wish we could get that back again because the FA Cup is still a fantastic competition.”