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9 February 2017

Ireland boss on his time at Carrow Road, Wes Hoolahan and World Cup ambitions

TWO clubs who hold a special place in the heart of Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill go head to head this weekend when Norwich City host Nottingham Forest in the Sky Bet Championship.

O'Neill was an integral figure in the golden era of the latter, helping Forest to earn promotion to the top-flight in 1977 before going on to secure a clutch of trophies under the guidance of manager Brian Clough.

The Tricky Trees completed a domestic double by winning the First Division title and Football League Cup during the 1977-78 campaign, ahead of back-to-back European Cup successes in 1979 and 1980.

Later twice representing City as a player during the early 1980s, O'Neill briefly returned to Carrow Road in 1995; this time in the dugout following the departure of John Deehan.

Speaking exclusively to earlier this season about his time in Norfolk, O'Neill said: "I've got great memories of Norwich.

"My two spells here as a player I loved immensely. As a manager too, although I was only here for six months with Mr Chase in charge at the time.

"We had our difficulties, let me put it that way, but Norwich City were as good a team as any in that particular season. They were as good a footballing side as the one I eventually went to, Leicester City.

"They were also as good a footballing side as Sunderland and Derby who took the automatic promotion slots. I'm not just being sycophantic about it, because this is a fantastic club."

In charge of Ireland's national side since 2013, O'Neill's team impressed at Euro 2016 and are now targeting a World Cup berth - a tournament at which the former midfielder captained Northern Ireland in 1982.

Central to those ambitions is the Canaries' Wes Hoolahan, who has emerged as a mainstay for The Boys In Green during the 64-year-old's tenure.

"Wes has been around the Ireland scene for a while but in the last couple of years he's made a proper mark with us," O'Neill added.

"He remains young at heart, certainly; sometimes getting that success later on brings a greater enjoyment. As long as he remains fit, then it's good for us but also good for Norwich.

"We've got some big, big matches coming up at home at the Aviva. The fans have been great and very supportive so it's really up to us now."

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