Thursday 8 December 2016

COMMENT: Martin O’Neill contract delay prompts hard questions

Published 31/03/2016 | 20:00

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, left, watches on alongside manager Martin O'Neill
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, left, watches on alongside manager Martin O'Neill

THERE’S having your cake and eating it. There’s eating the whole cake and then there’s another level altogether. Hoovering up second helpings.

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Martin O’Neill sat in the media room after Ireland drew 2-2 with Slovakia and took some umbrage at Sky man Rob Dorsett’s reasonably put question about Aston Villa and the vacancy created by Remi Garde’s sacking.

Dorsett, knowledgeable and always professional, also suggested that Roy Keane (right) might be on Villa’s radar, given his work there with Paul Lambert. Again, an entirely legitimate query.

In the context of the broader press conference, it was a slightly jarring but mildly humorous footnote which has since been painted as a bit of strop by the Ireland boss.

It wasn’t really but his response does highlight the way in which O’Neill has approached the dessert course after a three-month rolling victory banquet which followed qualification for Euro 2016. He’s still tucking in to the cream cake.

It is beyond ironic that O’Neill should be upset about questions linking him with any job when he has singularly refused to bring any closure to his current contract situation with the FAI.

He is leaving his options wide open and he is fully entitled to do that right up to the week after Ireland’s interest in Euro 2016 ends.

But he cannot then be precious about what must follow. A vacuum encourages the very question he has been dodging for months about his long- term future with Ireland.

Had he signed a new deal and asked Keane to stick with him for the next two years, nobody would bother asking him about Aston Villa.

Sure, Keane will always be the subject of rumour for the simple reason that he wants to be. He is in the market for a job and he will be hoping that opportunity comes sooner rather than later.

It is always striking the way Keane behaves when he is wearing his Ireland No. 2 hat. He doesn’t ever talk like an assistant and often has to rein himself in when he speaks about players and their interaction with management.

He is a No. 1 to the roots of his being and it only remains to be seen whether he has taken on board enough from the last few years to become the manager his supporters believe he can still be.

Most Ireland fans would wave him off about his new work if he is lucky enough to get a Premier League job but in the meantime, there will be speculation.

But O’Neill has it within his power to end all gossip about his own situation. Sit down, agree and sign a deal with the FAI and nobody will bother him again about it.

If he wants to keep his options open, he has to deal with the consequences.

O’Neill was entitled to his victory lap and entitled to face down his detractors, of which there were many after the home draw against Scotland ten months ago.

But every time he downplays Wes Hoolahan’s worth, it’s almost as if he is doing it to spite those who have promoted the willowy midfielder, most notably the RTE panel.

He was at it again after the Slovakia game during which Hoolahan underlined his value for the umpteenth time, yet O’Neill chose to talk down his contribution.

Maybe he doesn’t want to be tied to anyone else’s agenda but there are more subtle ways of dodging handcuffs.

Herald Sport

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