Geordie Can Be A Success - Says O'Neill
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill is convinced a Geordie can become a hero on Wearside - because it has been done before.
The Black Cats are firmly in the race to sign Gateshead-born Swansea striker Danny Graham this month amid reported competition from Norwich, QPR and Reading, with much being made of the 27-year-old's affection for arch-rivals Newcastle.
However, while declining to comment on his interest in the player - a formal bid has now been tabled - O'Neill is confident any prior affiliation goes out of the window when a professional pulls on the colours of another club, and he has hard evidence to support his argument.
Northumberland-born Bob Stokoe, the man who led then second division Sunderland to their FA Cup final over the mighty Leeds 40 years ago, was part of the famous Magpies team of the 1950s before crossing the divide, and his place in the club's history has been marked by a statue at the Stadium of Light.
O'Neill said: "You can grow up supporting a team, that's the nature of it, but when you become a professional player, then that is your job."
"Your job then is to play the best for your team, and I think that's the case.
"There is a statue outside the football club here to a Geordie, so there we go. It can't be bad, seriously, I am being really serious."
O'Neill added with a smile: "If you can do some things for the football club, the fans are willing to forgive and forget."
Graham would not be the first man with Newcastle connections to accept an offer of employment from Sunderland - Len Shackleton and Bob Moncur famously played in both black and white and red and white, as did Paul Bracewell and Barry Venison.
However, such is the level of rivalry between the two clubs nowadays that midfielder Lee Clark's spell at the Stadium of Light came to an abrupt halt after he was photographed wearing an offensive t-shirt, while striker Michael Chopra has been vilified on Wearside ever since passing up an opportunity to score for the Black Cats in a derby at St James' Park.
Should O'Neill get his man, Graham would provide added potency and experience to a pool of strikers which has been radically overhauled in recent months.
Steven Fletcher has been a big hit since his £12million arrival from Wolves during the summer, but he has received little support from his fellow frontmen.
O'Neill has already started to clear the decks with Ji Dong-won on loan at German side Augsburg, Louis Saha having been told he can find another club and Fraizer Campbell a target for a series of suitors including Cardiff and Hull.
Sunderland invested heavily in potential in attack under previous manager Steve Bruce but while O'Neill insists there is a role for youth, there is little doubt that experience is on his wish-list as he attempts to avoid being dragged into another fight against relegation.
He said: "Of course at this moment, I think obviously it's important to stay in the league, and I think there is room for both."
"But you just have to be mindful of the situation. My view is that eventually, if you are good enough, you will come through regardless of what age you are.
"I don't think age should be a barrier. It is to experience, but I think there is room for both."
O'Neill will at least have Fletcher available for the Barclays Premier League trip to Wigan after he missed the midweek FA Cup exit at the hands of Bolton through illness, and he could be joined by central defender John O'Shea, who was rested because of a tight hamstring.
However, skipper Lee Cattermole is likely to miss out after suffering a setback in his recovery from knee ligament damage during a training game yesterday less than 48 hours after making his return as a substitute against Wanderers.
O'Neill said: "He stubbed himself in the game. As he went to kick, he kicked the turf and a pain shot through his knee."
"But I think it's settling down at the moment. Tomorrow, I'll have to see, but we are hoping that if that's not the case, then next week, he should be okay."
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