Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill not averse to the odd tipple

PERHAPS not to the extent of some of his boozier playing days under Brian Clough, but Martin O’Neill believes sensible drinking has a beneficial role in English football.

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill

PERHAPS not to the extent of some of his boozier playing days under Brian Clough, but Martin O’Neill believes sensible drinking has a beneficial role in English football.

Although the Black Cats boss sees mid-season rest as more important than refreshment.

Today’s Premier League opponents, Queens Park Rangers, were criticised last week after reports of a “stag party” of a week in Dubai, painting a picture of heavy drinking sessions almost with the odd short training stint when time allowed.

Manager Harry Redknapp angrily denied the claims, and O’Neill – who also took Sunder-land to the Middle East that week – is in no rush to condemn QPR, who won 2-1 at Southampton hours after the stories were published.

“If you win the game, doing the conga outside somebody’s room would be taken as normal behaviour!” O’Neill joked. “If you lose the game, it would be reprehensible.

“For us it was more a case of ticking over, and getting players like Danny Graham involved. There would have been a couple of days where he was playing alongside Steven Fletcher, and a couple of days when they were on opposite sides.

“Overall the idea was to work together and the new players getting to know the other boys a wee bit more quickly. (January signings Alfred) N’Diaye and (Kader) Mangane are definitely non-drinkers anyway.”

Whether QPR’s players hit the bar or not, O’Neill thinks that can work in a squad’s favour.

“As long as you’re not over-playing it, there’s an element of that,” he commented. “Regardless of all the changes made in the modern game, I still believe it exists.

“The modern-day player would have a better idea of how to look after himself than 20-odd years ago.

“I don’t know where the (QPR) story came from, but the chances are it was from a player who was not in the team.”

Six years under Clough at Nottingham Forest certainly left O’Neill well-qualified to talk about the benefits and pitfalls of a good drinking session.

Nowadays at least you will seldom hear O’Neill criticising one of the greatest managers of all time, but there was one occasion he felt the Middlesbrough-born boss got the balance wrong.

That was in preparing his players for the 1980 European Cup final against Hamburg with something which by all accounts was not far short of a stag party.

“That’s the one I disagreed with,” said O’Neill, who played in the 1-0 win. “That wasn’t a great idea considering you were playing a European Cup final ten days later.

“The Hamburg team were ensconced in a training camp. My view is if Hamburg had equalised at any point, it would have ended up 21-1! Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But they didn’t.

“To be fair to the man I’m talking about he generally got the balance pretty right.

“When we were winning he would remind us at times he was getting calls from the public to say we’d been seen out drinking. He wanted to know who didn’t go out so he could fine them!”

O’Neill believes more important than team “bonding” was the opportunity to recharge batteries.

“I’m a great believer in a winter break,” said the former Celtic manager. “I’ve had experience of it in Scotland.

“My own belief is we contested a Uefa Cup final (in 2003) very much on the back of a break. You can’t narrow it down to just that, but I believe psychologically and physically, it was terrific for us.

“It was a long season so it was nice to have that focal point. You come back refreshed for the rest of the season. you feel as if you’ve got more energy.

“Ours (at Sunderland) was a break because we didn’t go through in the FA Cup, I’d have preferred to have been in the FA Cup but I still believe it was worthwhile.”

Having trained all week, on-loan left-back Danny Rose is back in contention to face QPR today after a knee injury.

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