Aaron re­veals se­crets of O’neill suc­cess

Man man­age­ment Eye for de­tail Tac­ti­cal nous Cre­at­ing a sense of unity Chang­ing the en­tire cul­ture in the dress­ing-room Never wast­ing a sin­gle minute

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - SPORT - BY DAR­REN FULLER­TON

VETERAN de­fender Aaron Hughes has re­vealed the blue­print be­hind North­ern Ire­land’s re­nais­sance un­der Michael O’neill.

As well as tac­ti­cal nous, Hughes be­lieves O’neill’s eye for de­tail, man man­age­ment skills and abil­ity to cul­ti­vate a sense of unity helped “dreams come true” at Euro 2016.

“It was a whole cul­ture change,” said North­ern Ire­land’s most capped out­field player, who is cur­rently out of con­tract at Hearts and weigh­ing up his fu­ture.

Hughes, 38, has played un­der five in­ter­na­tional man­agers, in­clud­ing Lawrie Mcmen­emy, Sammy Mcil­roy, Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Wor­thing­ton.

But it is O’neill, who lured him out of a brief pe­riod of in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment when he was ap­pointed in 2012, who has left the big­gest im­pres­sion.

He cred­its the 48-year-old for al­ter­ing the mind­set of a North­ern Ire­land team that went on to defy the odds by reach­ing the Eu­ros two years ago.

Hughes said: “A lot of peo­ple for­get the cam­paign be­fore (the Eu­ros) wasn’t great re­sults wise, but there was a lot of work be­ing done in games and train­ing ses­sions.

“One thing Michael did was make sure there wasn’t a minute wasted. Ev­ery­thing was fo­cused on how he wanted us to play and how we were go­ing to get suc­cess.”

One of O’neill’s mas­ter­strokes was a re­fusal to se­lect cer­tain play­ers be­cause of their club, a move that en­gen­dered a sense of pur­pose within the squad.

Hughes told the Mod­ern Soc­cer Coach pod­cast: “In the past, if you were maybe at a higher club, you just nat­u­rally started the game, just be­cause you were seen to be at a higher club.

“Michael came in and ba­si­cally said ‘I don’t care where you’re play­ing’. That gave con­fi­dence to those lads who maybe weren’t get­ting much ga­me­time.

“They had some­thing to go for and think ‘this is my shirt, I could hold on to it’. It (also) meant the lads who weren’t re­ally both­ered whether they played or not fell out of the squad.

“You ended up with 25 lads who all wanted to be there, all wanted the same thing and were go­ing in the same di­rec­tion. It was a whole cul­ture change.”

O’neill re­minds Hughes of ex-eng­land boss Roy Hodg­son, who was a stick­ler for de­tail and rep­e­ti­tion on the train­ing pitch.

Hughes spent two sea­sons un­der Hodg­son at Ful­ham where they helped the Lon­don club reach the 2010 Europa League Cup fi­nal, which they lost to Atletico Madrid.

He said: “Michael’s at­ten­tion to de­tail is un­be­liev­able, how he analy­ses the games and talks to us. The con­tent of our ses­sions, it’s never wasted time. Ever.

“As a player it’s en­joy­able and you want to turn up be­cause you’re get­ting suc­cess from it. Next you’re go­ing to the Eu­ros.

“Dreams were com­ing true.”

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