MARTIN O'NEILL last night insisted Rangers were treated harshly by Scottish football authorities.

The former Celtic manager had numerous epic Old Firm battles during his Parkhead reign and believes the Ibrox side were hard done by following liquidation in 2012.

O'Neill, who was back in Glasgow in November in his guise as Republic of Ireland manager, suggested that Scottish football has suffered during Rangers' absence from the top flight. The Ibrox side won successive titles to reach the SPFL Championship but currently trail leaders Hearts by 13 points.

Following liquidation the Ibrox side were denied immediate access to the top flight and were instead invited to begin again in the Third Division. It is a decision which O'Neill is convinced has been to the detriment of the game in this country.

"It is absolutely," said O'Neill when asked if the plight of Rangers is sad. "I think naturally, Rangers are a very big miss. I think Celtic have missed them in the last few years and not only that, but I think the SPL have as well.

"The punishment on the face of things looked a little bit harsh, really. But it certainly has affected the game greatly, also with Hearts and Hibs not being there too, the SPL has lost some of its lustre."

O'Neill continues to look back on his time in Scotland with great fondness there. He is proud of his achievements at Celtic, which included reaching the 2003 UEFA Cup final.

"We had a very fine side, we obviously had some very, very good players indeed like Henrik Larsson, John Hartson, Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Alan Thompson - we had a lot of great players," he said.

"We not only competed at SPL level against Rangers, who were very, very strong at that time but we managed to reach the UEFA Cup final where we played Porto who went on to win the Champions League the following season. So it was very worthwhile for me."

O'Neill's Ireland side are locked in a battle for Euro 2016 qualification with Scotland, Germany and Poland. "When the groups were formed, we obviously felt it was going to be a very strong group," the Ireland manager added.

"Scotland are emerging again, Poland are very strong when they want to be and, obviously, Germany won the World Cup. Having said that, we have picked up seven points from four games - of which three have been away from home. So it is tight, but we now have some games at home where really our fate will be decided."