It's 1st June 2000 and we've just appointed our 3rd manager in 3 years. The Rev Al is there as the new man meets the press for the first time.
Welcome, Martin O'Neill
Well, no doubt everyone will see/read/hear plenty about the MON press conference, so I'll refrain from going over old ground. Here are a couple of things which the cameras missed.
During the printed meeja session MON was met with his first taste of the standard Scottish hack. Unbelievably Ron McKay managed to take him through a scenario whereby he had lost to Rangers, and stated "You realise that'll get you the sack?" O'Neill dealt with this diplomatically, before ending with "We're not playing them next week, are we?"
His dealings with the meeja will be interesting as the season progresses. My impression is that they will soon tire of him as they realise that he's just too fecking smart for them.
Today's friendly, jokey, can-I-shake-your-hand-Martin demeanour will quickly be replaced by their usual snidey, petty ways. These, though, will be swatted aside (much like KD treats them, really). No doubt their best chance of catching him off-guard will be post-, rather than pre-, match.
I was lucky enough to end up "behind the scenes" after the main business of the day was complete (that's what happens when you tag along behind the new manager - maybe everyone thought I was his agent). Anyway, firstly I'd followed some of the hacks into one of the lounges overlooking the front door and got to look down on MON as he waved to the gathered fhans, and was given a superb welcome (er, he was - not me).
As I then made my way down the stairs, there was the bhold bhoy, and entourage, coming back into the foyer. I blended in with the crowd and before I knew it I was (a) on the trackside as more pictures were taken, and (b) in possession of the very scarf that MON had held up on the front steps.
By the same good fortune (and having engaged one of the Celtic View staff in conversation), as the throng moved back up the tunnel, I found myself in the boardroom. Set up in one corner was a television camera, and it transpired that Celtic TV were preparing to film two short pieces, one where the interviewer was to be Tony "Community Singing" Hamilton, the other where Matt McGlone was to be "Parky". Never one to pass up an opportunity, I hung
I even managed to grab an autograph (two actually...for my kids - honest!). "That's my first as Celtic manager," he told me.
I have to say that Martin O'Neill is an immensely likeable guy. Maybe I'll feel differently if things go arse over tit, but it's kind of hard to imagine saying anything *bad* about the man. His respect for Celtic, and particularly Jock Stein, is genuine and deep-rooted.
Without wishing to breach copyright, here a couple of examples of where he is coming from.
Matt McGlone had commented on O'Neill's "animated" touchline persona, and later asked how his [O'Neill's] father had reacted to Celtic victories. MON replied that "if you think I'm demented during a game, you should have seen my father jumping all around the house when Celtic won."
He was asked about his recollections of the '67 final, to which he said that he'd been at boarding school in Derry at the time, and the priests had allowed everyone to watch the game. I'd say he's been our first manager for a while who can recall precisely where they were that day.
MM also wanted to know if MON had ever, in his younger days, imagined managing Celtic. His answer was that he'd dreamed of playing for the club, but not managing "because Jock Stein was the manager, and I just thought he'd be the manager for next hundred years."
Watching O'Neill handle himself today I have to admit to being very impressed. One factor which I had felt was relatively unimportant was an understanding of, and affinity with, Celtic. I thought that all that mattered was the managerial ability of the chosen one. I'm now not so sure. Possibly O'Neill encompasses all the best virtues that Burns and Jansen brought to the club, with a bit of Ferguson thrown in (it's too much to dare dream of a new Stein). By that I mean he could be a man who combines winning with passion, or maybe combines passion with winning. Here's hoping.