Paul Cuddihy, The Celtic View
It was a couple of weeks after the end of the 2004/05 season. Celtic had won the Scottish Cup, but any sense of celebration at that Hampden triumph was still overshadowed by the final day of the league campaign.
A 2-1 defeat against Motherwell at Fir Park saw Celtic relinquish the league title. It was a heartbreaking disappointment, compounded just a couple of days later when Martin O’Neill announced he was stepping down as manager to spend time with his wife, who was ill.
The season was over – though, unfortunately, not forgotten. The pain of Fir Park would take a long time to heal.
It was a sombre and downcast Celtic Park, as well as being a quiet one with all the players away on holiday when, into the Celtic View office walked Martin O’Neill. He had popped in to the stadium to clear out his desk and he was saying goodbye to all the staff who had worked with him over the previous five years.
Over a few cups of coffee, he spent an hour or two in our office. He recalled his own playing days at Nottingham Forest, entertaining us with stories of former team-mates such as then Celtic assistant manager, John Robertson, and many anecdotes about his manager, the legendary Brian Clough.
He told dressing room tales from his own time as Celtic manager that we’d never previously heard – filling in the gaps behind the memorable games and famous results, which was all we had known previously.
It was like he’d opened up a window on this private place and, as Celtic supporters, we were enthralled. Then, all too quickly it seemed, that window closed again. Martin thanked us for our efforts over the five years of his tenure, and then he was gone.
I try to count my blessings every day, though some days it’s easier than others. That day in June 2005 was one of the easiest.
I went home that night and told my wife what had happened. I could feel my eyes welling up as I did so – I can feel them do it again as I write this now.
As a supporter, I shared in all the triumphs and defeats of Martin O’Neill’s tenure as manager – and there were many, many more triumphs to enjoy.
But I was lucky enough, along with a few of my colleagues, to spend a couple of hours talking football with Martin. Well, he talked and we listened.
I know it’s something that every Celtic fan would have loved, and I feel lucky that my job presented me with the opportunity. It was, as the advert says, ‘Priceless.’