Martin O'Neill looks to the past for inspiration


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The Independent Football

On the walls of the Academy of Light, leading to Martin O'Neill's office, are a reminder of a glorious day in Sunderland's history; Jimmy Montgomery being hugged by Bob Stokoe, Ian Porterfield scoring in the same game, the giants of Leeds slain, the FA Cup heading back to Wearside.

That was 39 years ago. It is a reminder of an inglorious past now as much as a glorious one, as O'Neill admitted on the eve of Sunderland's trip to Everton in the FA Cup quarter-final today.

"For a club of this size to have not won a trophy since 1973 is a great shame," he said. "To have only been in one final since then, you wouldn't have believed it at the time. It might be a fairly lengthy time before we are contesting that, but a club of this size should be doing better. This club has lived on the 1973 FA Cup final against Leeds United and that's absolutely fantastic, but you would like to think at some stage we will be able to share a few more moments than that.

"I'm not sure if the players worry or know enough about the history of their own club but then you'd be surprised at how much some of the younger players know. The lesson of history is that these opportunities don't come around very often. You think that at the age of 21 or 22, when you lose a quarter final, that it's all right, it'll be around next year. Then you're 29 and it hasn't happened for you, honestly.

"Even in our great days under Brian Clough the FA Cup eluded us. We lost a quarter-final against West Bromwich Albion, it was the fifth round the following year against Arsenal and Gary Birtles missed a sitter and then Frank Stapleton scored, I could go through many harrowing moments, losing to Newcastle United in 1974, you thought it was bad enough to lose that but you think you'll have plenty of time again, I was 22 at the time, then it just goes.

"Getting to Wembley would be absolutely fantastic. For a club like us to go down there would be a great day out. It would be an achievement. You dare not think about getting to Wembley yet, that is the point. We've 6,000 going to the game and that is really fantastic. It has given everyone a lift, including the players. We'll give it everything we've got, we have to."

Stéphane Sessègnon will not be there, suspended because of his sending off in the Tyne-Wear derby, and O'Neill is concerned about the player's family still being in Paris: "We have someone here at the football club that is in constant touch with Sess. We have given him a little bit of time to go and see his family," O'Neill said.

"We wouldn't want to lose Sessègnon because of homesickness. His family concerns over there are something we will really have to look at. For normal reasons we should do it and for very obvious reasons, because he is going to attract an awful lot of attention from big clubs. I believe his name will be bandied around significantly, we'd hate to lose him. If it's because of homesickness it is something we would have to look at ourselves."