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Cup run could help league form, says O'Neill
MARTIN O'NEILL admits the FA Cup has lost some of its magic, but the Sunderland manager hopes a good run in the competition will help his side gather some momentum in the Premier League.
O'Neill takes his Sunderland team to face Bolton Wanderers for a place in the fourth round today with the memory of last year's run in the competition still fresh in his mind.
Twelve months ago, the Black Cats saw off Peterborough at London Road in the third round and they eventually reached the quarter-final stage before being knocked out in a replay against Everton.
That result might have knocked the stuffing out of the Black Cats for the rest of the season, but their impressive run in the competition raised confidence amongst a squad that had struggled in the first half of the season, and results in the league began to pick up as well.
One year on and O'Neill could do with another cup buzz to give his players a lift as they sit 14th in the league table having won just five games so far.
"It's a great competition and from last year's experience of getting to the quarter-final and the run we went on," O'Neill said.
"I believe that coincided with some decent performances in the league: the two of them going hand in hand, it took us out of relegation trouble and kept us alive.
"I know it became a bit of a disappointment to lose to Everton in the replay but if we can generate the same sort of excitement here again with some sort of cup run that would be terrific."
In recent years, the shine has been taken away from the FA Cup with games being staged over a number of games and Premier League teams opting to field weakened teams as they prioritised the league, but O'Neill still holds the competition high in his priorities.
"For me it still retains its aura. It's a fantastic competition,"O'Neill said. "If you saw the atmosphere last season when we went on a bit of a run - the atmosphere for the Everton replay was something to behold. We'll try our utmost if we can but you can equally go out in the third round, so it's difficult.
"I think it would be fair to say in most people's eyes it has lost some of its sheen, primarily because the Premier League is the be all and end all of everything. Let me put it this way, major football clubs prioritise now.
"It's taken a bit of a knocking over the last ten or twelve years for all those reasons. It's still a great, great competition - one of the best. It doesn't have the old ring to it that it used to.
"In the third round, everyone crowded round the TV to hear the draw and the stadiums were full. Now you might be going to stadiums that are 3/4 full. It's a bit of a shame but that's the way it is."
This year represents the 40th anniversary of Sunderland's famous FA Cup win in 1973 and O'Neill, a boyhood Sunderland fan, admits it would be a dream come true to lead the Black Cats to glory again.
"Winning the FA Cup would be fantastic, it really would be," he said. "Try telling people at the final whistle at Wembley it doesn't matter.
"It would be mean everything. More so than ever before. The very fact that it is 40 years tells you everything.
"Every year that Sunderland participate it seems to get further and further away. Last year was a great effort indeed but the thought of what those players achieved 40 years ago should give you some sort of ambition.
"They (the fans) have been obviously crying out for it. It's hard to believe that a club like Sunderland - or Newcastle, for that matter - can go that length of time without winning a trophy. When you think about it, it's remarkable.
"From my own experience of last season you see what it can do for a club. It would be nice and that's very important. It would be nice to get a run going.
"I'd like to stay in it (FA Cup) absolutely. It's not a case of prioritising. It's an opportunity. We saw what happened last season, early round against Peterborough and it seemed to gain momentum from there.
"The replay against Middlesbrough, the match against Arsenal and the match at Goodison - it was really terrific, the atmosphere was really great.
"I don't think it surprised me last year (how much it means)."