'If anything does happen Roy and I will have a chat'
Published 23/05/2014 | 02:30
"It's nice to see you all again as I haven't seen you for such a long long time," quipped a drenched Martin O'Neill as he sat down to face the press after the first Irish training session of the summer international window.
The joke was that he had spoken for so long on Tuesday at his final squad announcement that he was unsure what else there was to say, given that his panel had reported as expected, with David Meyler the only injury concern ahead of Sunday's friendly with Turkey at the Aviva Stadium.
He might have escaped with a short briefing were it not for developments at his former club Celtic earlier in the day which meant that the imminent showdown with the Turks didn't get a mention. The shower of questions about Neil Lennon's departure became so incessant that, at one point, an FAI press officer interrupted in an attempt to steer chat back towards Ireland matters. The intervention failed.
Later on, as he chatted with newspaper journalists, O'Neill was happy enough to reflect on his old job and confess that, in different circumstances, he might never have handed over the reins at Parkhead. After a hugely successful spell, he left in 2005 for reasons related to his wife Geraldine's health.
"The torch has passed for me," he said. "I had a really great time, loved it immensely and I might well have been still there if not for other reasons. It's a great club, but the torch has passed and it goes on to other people. Honestly, you have to be there to realise just how brilliant a club it is. I'm delighted I became one of however many managers they have had."
An earlier query that floated the possibility of that torch being passed to his assistant boss, Roy Keane, brought the Derry man back to what is already a recurring theme of his tenure; chatter about the alternative options available to his number two.
The Corkman was out of work for over two-and-a-half years before he was approached by O'Neill to complete the Irish ticket, but is now back in the debate for almost every vacancy that arises. "I'm not really surprised now, with the profile he's gathering again," said the 62-year-old. "It's maybe even good for him and maybe it's nice to be linked with a lot of things. But I'm hoping if anything did develop, we could have a chat about it and we would see."
Does he fear that he might lose Keane during the next two years? "Funnily enough, I just spoke to him a moment ago and he said he's going to stay with me forever," joked O'Neill quick as a flash, before clarifying that no such discussion had taken place.
"When he set out, I think the commitment was to come in here and do the job. Now, the games are soon coming around and I think he's pretty well committed at this minute.
"Roy's name is linked with that particular job because he has an affinity with Celtic... so I'm sure his name will be linked with it. I wouldn't be surprised if his name is linked with a number of things.
"But I don't really want to envisage any problems that might not arise."
The last point is a fair one and O'Neill did note the extremely hypothetical nature of this latest round of Keane chat and wondered aloud if his politeness could bring Celtic chat on a variety of tangents.
"I really have no idea where I'm going with this," he laughed.
"It's pure speculation. In an attempt to try and be nice... if you had mentioned Charlie Hurley to me and said that Charlie was up for the job at Celtic, I'd probably have gone on meandering about how Charlie was a great player, he was my hero and, yes, he's got a good chance of getting the job."
Amid the levity, the serious message from O'Neill is that he appreciates that rumours come with the territory in football. Given that a number of clubs will likely change manager between now and June 11 – when this Irish gathering ends – it's safe to assume that he'll have to cope with a few more speculative enquiries.
The only certainty is that he will have to do without Keane tomorrow as he will be in Lisbon on ITV duty for the Champions League final, a prior commitment that he has been given permission to attend.
"He genuinely does feel a bit uncomfortable with it," said O'Neill. "But he will be there for Sunday's game. I actually think his job here has put him right back into focus again, as much as doing the ITV programmes. It's great and I'm absolutely delighted for him.
"I wasn't expecting to have this type of question with you way back when I was taking him on last October. But if I had had maybe a second thought about it, I would have realised these things would have been coming up. So I'll deal with it."
Keane was active on the training ground in Malahide as new coaches Steve Walford and Steve Guppy worked with the group for the first time.
O'Neill's priority is to give every player a fair chance to audition over the course of the fixtures with the Turks, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal. It's all about building towards the opening qualifier in Georgia in September, a game which he expects to watch with Keane by his side.
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