"I've got no proper idea about people here who haven't had a chance in the first team," said O'Neill, who has impressed his squad by devoting considerable time to holding private conversations with individual players. "I don't really know the strengths and weaknesses of my team yet."
Although Sunderland's new manager said he has still to discuss any potential January transfer market activity with the club's owner, Ellis Short, he has been noting the names of assorted players he is rumoured to be interested in. "We have already become linked with some really good, some pretty average and some pretty abominable ones," he said. "I just want us to be linked with the really good players."
It is likely that he would place the Fulham striker Bobby Zamora in the latter category but after two wins from O'Neill's three games in charge the inclination of a manager reputed to be pursuing Zamora may be to leave any significant transfer business until the summer.
For the moment he is simply happy to be back in management, contemplating Boxing Day's home game against Everton. "I'm feeling really pleased to be working this Christmas," said O'Neill, who can live without the traditional festivities. "I'm not a big eater and I don't like turkey," he said. "Or rather I don't like my wife's turkey."
The former Aston Villa and Celtic manager's other dislikes include players who fall foul of the law. Aware that Titus Bramble faces a crown court appearance next month on allegations of two sexual assaults, which the defender denies, and that Lee Cattermole, Sunderland's captain, and the on-loan striker Nicklas Bendtner were recently arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage to cars in Newcastle, O'Neill has broached the subject of discipline generally with his squad and individually with those concerned.
"You need discipline and I've spoken to the lads about it," O'Neill said. "I think players respond to discipline. There's a big disparity between modern-day players and the man in the street in terms of wages and players have a duty to behave. Because of their earnings, modern-era players do have extra responsibilities."
He was encouraged by Cattermole's sense of on-field obligation during the midweek win at Queens Park Rangers. "Lee was angry with himself for not tracking a run that led to one of QPR's goals," he said. "He can be pretty hard on himself but he played well."
O'Neill, who has virtually abandoned hope of being able to recall the Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan from a loan stint with Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates, pronounced himself as "euphoric" following a win which kept Sunderland clear of the relegation zone.
"It's encouraging," he said. "We badly needed some points on the board and we've achieved that. We still have a long way to go but we seem to be up for the struggle and that's all I can ask for."
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