The seven best things Martin O'Neill did for Ireland
By Aaron McNally
There were some good times.
After five years together, the Republic of Ireland have parted ways with Martin O'Neill. O'Neill led Ireland to Euro 2016 and into the knockout stages there and the country was just one game away from reaching the 2018 World Cup too.
Although the form took a huge nosedive in the last year or so, there were times when Ireland had played well and they were digging out good results first few years of the Derry man's tenure.
Here, we take a look back at some of O'Neill's best moments throughout his five years at the job.
1. That win over Germany
Arguably his best win as Ireland manager, O'Neill made sure that Germany were not going to score with his defensive tactics.
Ireland defended ferociously and when sub Shane Long ran onto a 70th minute hoof from Darren Randolph and crashed the ball past a helpless Manuel Neuer, the Aviva crowd was sent into delirium.
O'Neill's men parked the bus for the last 20 minutes and came away with a historic 1-0 win over the world champions and a huge boost in their bid for qualifying for Euro 2016.
Such a memorable night for the Irish fans.
2. Famous night in Lille
Oh, a famous night is right. With their hopes of progression hanging by a thread, Ireland needed a win against Italy in Lille to continue to the last 16.
O’Neill took a lot of risks with his team selection throughout his five years. Some paid off, some didn’t, but going to a 4-3-3 for the Italy game was a stroke of class. Ireland were on the front foot all night and the best moment of the came when he brought Wes Hoolahan on in the second period. Instant impact was made by the midfielder who should've scored before going on to provide the assist for that famous 85th minute Brady winner.
Another unforgettable night for the Irish faithful.
3. Actually playing Wes Hoolahan
O'Neill's best moments aren't just famous wins. He trusted in Hoolahan more than others have.
Perhaps he should've played him more than he did but Wes' talent was largely wasted by Ireland until O'Neill came on the scene.
He at least salvaged a bit of Hoolahan's international career and the playmaker went on to show that he was one of the best players that Martin O’Neill deployed during his tenure.
The West Brom man had made only six appearances for Ireland before O’Neill was appointed but earned 37 caps under the Derry native's management.
'The Irish Messi' or 'Wessi' because the country's most important player long after he should've been the country's most important player.
4. Utilisation of Jon Walters
O’Neill utilised Walters in a unique way that gave him a new lease of life.
He put the Stoke man on the right so as to help out with defence but also attack when Ireland had the ball to give them a better attacking platform. He was, in effect, an extra work horse so they could set up in defence with a 4-5-1 but he was also then up top with another striker when Ireland won the ball back.
Walters' brace in the playoff against Bosnia was just one part of his great Euro 2016 qualifying campaign which saw him named Senior International Player of the Year for 2015. A lot of that was down to O'Neill got the best out of him.
5. Bosnia Win
Apart from the fact that Ireland won against the 20th ranked team in the world to reach Euro 2016, this was a massive game for Martin O'Neill because Ireland played attacking free-flowing football.
After a 1-1 draw in foggy Zenica, all Ireland needed was a scoreless draw to reach Euro 2016. It would have been tempting for Martin O’Neill to park the bus and try and see the game out.
But he didn’t.
Ireland came out wanting to attack and play football and the attacking football paid dividends. The Irish put Bosnia under severe pressure and a Jon Walters brace earned a deserving 2-0 win for Ireland in one of the biggest nights for football in Dublin, in which Martin O'Neill deserved huge credit such was the perfect performance by his team.
6. The development of Robbie Brady
Under O’Neill, Brady was as versatile as they come. Left back, left wing, centre mid, right attacking midfield. Brady could play in any of those positions and still play to a very high level.
He had made one appearance before O’Neill came in but the Derry man gave him a good chance to shine and, boy, did the Dubliner take that chance. Brady has just continued to grow under O’Neill and is now one of the most important players on the Ireland team.
7. Results against high-ranked opposition
The highest ranked team Ireland beat from 2002 to 2015 was Serbia, who were ranked 33rd.
Since September of 2015, Ireland recorded wins against teams ranked 2nd (Germany), 12th (Italy), 13th (Wales) and 20th (Bosnia) - in competitive games.
That just goes to show that Martin O’Neill turned this Ireland team around and made them capable of beating high-ranked opposition.
O'Neill's departure was widely expected after Ireland's run of form over the last year or so but let us not forget the big wins, the unforgettable wins and all the memories that were given to us by the Derry man.