Colin O'Neill speaks to FirParkCorner

Last updated : 21 October 2008 By Firparkcorner

Most Motherwell fans will know you came to us from Portadown in Northern Ireland, could you talk us through the early stages of your career?

I started at 15 - the youngest ever in Northern Ireland - for Ards, then went Ballymena. I played in a charity game with George Best and agent Bill McMurdo began to set up a move to Dunfermline. I went there and Ian Munro wanted to sign me but money was tight at the time and Jim Leishman said no. I went back home and shortly afterwards got the phone call from Motherwell.

Wee Tommy obviously has quite a reputation for his attitude in the dressing room - any stories that can be shared?

He was always alright with me because he knew I'd give everything. When I arrived he made me loet 2 stones in 6 weeks! But I've seen him square up to the likes of Craig Paterson, drawing himself up to full height and only reaching his waist!

McLean had issues with Paul Kinnaird - the worst player I've ever played with - as he was more interested in the horses than football. We'd be getting ready to play Rangers and he'd be reading the paper!

One of your most infamous moments came against Celtic in 1990...?

That was when a bee stung me and my elbow caught Peter Grant? I think I still have the teeth marks in my arm! I did it because he spat at me. He had started right from the beginning, I got the ball from kick off and he caught me, I had four stud marks from the thigh to the knee. It was all about who was in control of that area of the park.

You got a long ban for that but made quite a comeback?

Yes, I returned at Parkhead. Tommy said to listen to the noise when you come out and they all booed but that didn't bother me. They only boo if you can play.

The signing of Davie Cooper and the emergence of young talents like Boyd and O'Donnell helped the club a lot - what are your memories around that time?

Cooper used to ring me every night when he was in the bath. He'd always ask 'what you doing you stupid Irish bastard'! He was amazing, he played the same way in training as games, absolutely brilliant. Shortly after that goal against Celtic, I tried again against Hibs and hit the snack bar - DC then says leave the fancy stuff to me, I gave it to him at stomach height and he beat two defenders then scores. That's how you do it, he said. Graeme Souness said Cooper could open a tin of beans with his left foot, that's how good he was.

Happy day!

Obviously most Motherwell fans link you to the cup run in 1991, what did it mean for you to win something with a club like this?

It was unbelievable. I remember coming out the Civic at 2am and the place was jumping like 2pm in afternoon! Coming home in the bus with the cup was amazing, going up to ground through all the people. The next six weeks were a dream with do after do - it was brilliant

You were the regular penalty-taker for a while, did you have any nerves at Cappielow?

I needed a big puff of air in the walk up - setting myself and getting ready. The crowd were all chanting 'Psycho Psycho' which didn't help me to stay calm! But it hit the net and the celebrating began. Someone said that's why they call him Psycho, the somersault when I landed on my neck.

My partner was there for the first time at Dougie's game, she'd never seen me play. I get treated like a God. She was amazed when I came on, the whole crowd standing, shouting psycho. I never heard that in some games because I was so focussed but sometimes you do after a tackle - it stirs you on when you hit someone. I was off work for a week recovering after that night but I'd play in these games till I'm 60 if I could - I love it.

How long did it take the Motherwell fans to adopt you like that?

About three weeks - I was playing against McPherson, niggling him, he reacted and got sent off. But the fans saw me first and could tell I was getting wired in.

The semi final goal - just what were you thinking about by shooting and not passing to Nick Cusack!?

My actual words in my mind were, 'fuck it, I'm hitting this'. McLean said afterward that if it missed you were on the boat home back home to Portadown for not passing to Cusack. But I couldn't have hit it any sweeter, it put me in legend status.

I have the award for best goal ever from the do last year - I didn't think I'd win it, but Willie Pettigrew said it was deserved and he scored some in his time. I actually got a fax from Ally McCoist after it saying some goal I replied you'll never get one like that and he said, aye but I've got 400 from inside the box!

It must have been a hard decision for Tommy McLean to put you on the bench in the final - were you fully fit for the game?

I'd had an operation 10 days before hand - wasn't fit, couldn't run. It was getting better but at the pool in Irvine, Stevie Bryce came down the slide and hit me right on the knee - like a torpedo. Tommy came to me and asked if I was fit, I said not fully. He told me his heart was ruling his head and I was in the squad so I knew I'd be there almost before anyone else.

How did the other guys in the squad, John Philliben in particular, react to being left out?

Everyone was in it together. No heads went down, some people were surprised but people accepted it.

Sadly, your career came to a premature end due to injury - how did you deal with that?

I sort of knew - it was getting a limit. I was always trying to come back but the set backs were getting worse and worse. It was going downhill all the time so I knew it was time to call it quits.

Did you ever consider coaching/management?

No, it's not the same. I used to be sick pre-game but being a manager is just not the same atmosphere. I'd rather be out there chasing people and getting involved rather than watching from the sidelines.

Away from Motherwell, you were capped a number of times for Northern Ireland - that must have been a great honour?

Crap! We would play Rangers one week in front of a full house and then Chile in front of 2000! Nah, it was obviously an honour to represent your country but it wasn't so great, Northern Ireland were shite at the time although I shouldn't really say that!

Motherwell have had plenty of ups and downs since you left, how closely do you follow their progress?

I follow every week, there's plenty of news coming over so I always keep an eye out to see what's going on.

You've starting out on the after dinner/club circuit - how's that going?

Brilliantly! I've already done a few in Northern Ireland and had good feedback. There are plenty of good stories to share but some shouldn't be put down in print!

And naturally you'd be delighted to hear from Motherwell fans wanting your services?

Of course, I've always had a special relationship with the supporters. If anyone needs me for something like that I'd be delighted to hear from them.

FirParkCorner would like to thank Colin for his time and for all the wonderful memories he gave us in the claret and amber jersey. Should anyone wish to approach him for an event please get in touch with us and we will pass the message on.