'Our Cup run has put Reading back on the map'

McDermott hails his club's revival ahead of Sunday's reunion with old foe O'Neill
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The Independent Online

Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, admits that few people outside the Madejski Stadium and even his own home would know who he is.

After all, the 48-year-old had a fairly unremarkable playing career despite starting out at Arsenal before flitting from one footballing outpost to another, including a successful spell abroad in Sweden.

McDermott's big break as a manager has taken a long time coming. It looked as if he had missed his chance after spells in charge of non-league Slough Town and Woking.

And when John Madejski, the Royals' chairman, appointed him as successor to Brendan Rodgers on a permanent basis in January, the cynics scoffed that the decision was the cheap option. Whatever the truth, McDermott is leading a Reading revival with just one defeat in the last eight games in all competitions, a run that has included the Berkshire club making it to their first FA Cup quarter-final appearance since 1927.

But the manager insists: "I'm not here to prove anyone wrong. What's the point? I don't live my life like that. I can understand people thinking that. No one knew who I was apart from a few Reading fans and people in my kitchen, but that doesn't bother me.

"I just felt that it was the right opportunity. I wanted to take [the job] and I wouldn't have taken it if I didn't think I was the right man for the job.

"The important thing is we are moving forward and winning games. I don't think too far ahead because then I get nervous, I just look to the next game."

McDermott was a youngster when Arsenal reached three successive FA Cup finals between 1978 and 1980, but he insists the prospect of leading Reading to Wembley would be far more satisfying.

"My memories at Arsenal were in the stand watching three Cup finals," recalls McDermott. "They were great occasions. You never forget the lead-up to the games. I remember the semi-finals as well when they were played on neutral grounds. What more incentive do you need? To get to a semi and being at Wembley is the icing on the cake.

"As a player it's great to be part of a team, but it's better as a manager. Getting results is different, very different."

The FA Cup may have lost some of its appeal for bigger clubs, as a result of the financial rewards elsewhere, but the world's oldest cup competition has this season given Reading some magical moments, none more so than beating Liverpool in dramatic fashion at Anfield. Contrary to being an unwanted distraction from the pressures of fighting for their Championship lives, the Cup appears to have breathed new life into the Royals. "I think the cup run has put us back on the map and brought the feel-good factor back to the club," says McDermott.

Although he may still be cutting his managerial teeth at Reading, McDermott has already crossed swords with his opposite number tomorrow, Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill. When McDermott was assistant manager at Conference side Yeovil Town in the early Nineties, he came up against O'Neill, who was working wonders at Wycombe Wanderers.

"I was assistant at Yeovil and the manger, Clive Whitehead, wasn't available. I took the game and it ended 2-2," recalls McDermott. "Even then you could imagine him [O'Neill] being a successful manager. He has a certain something about him."

Not that McDermott is anxious. "I've had more trouble picking a name for our new dog than picking the team," he says.

Brian who? McDermott's CV

*The Player: Six years, 61 First Division matches and 12 goals with Arsenal, and 150 lower-league games mainly at Exeter, Cardiff and Oxford.

*The Coach: Managed Slough and Woking before becoming Reading's chief scout in 2000. Coached youth team and reserves before being made caretaker manager last December, taking over permanently in January.