Wednesday 28 September 2016

Martin O’Neill hints at longer stay for Ireland rebuilding task

Agreement on contract likely if progress evident in autumn

Published 18/07/2015 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill gives indication that another campaign as boss is on the cards
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill gives indication that another campaign as boss is on the cards

Martin O'Neill has given a strong indication that he feels another campaign as Ireland manager is on the cards, but admitted that it will involve a lot of rebuilding for whoever is in charge.

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The 63-year-old will be in Russia next weekend for the World Cup 2018 qualifying draw, but it's possible he may not be at the helm when the competition comes around.

Speaking for the first time since he was in the frame for the job at Leicester, O'Neill stressed that he was never going to leave Ireland halfway through the Euro 2016 race.

After initially refusing to answer questions on whether there was contact from the Premier League club, the Derry man later confirmed that he was sounded out.

Commitment

"I think they had a number of candidates they were interested in and just wanted to know my position and I said I had a commitment here," he said.

"This is what I wanted to do. I don't think anything was going to stop me from doing it. How could you go and do something else half-way through? I think we still have a real fighting chance.

"This is my commitment here and I'll obviously speak to John (Delaney) and the FAI board at the end of the time, whether that's October, November or whatever the case may be."

The indications are that the FAI are waiting to see how the remaining four qualifiers pan out before presenting a new deal, and O'Neill says he is relaxed enough about that scenario. He has previously acknowledged that a limp ending to the race to the France would naturally pose questions about the level of the progress.

But he does feel there are signs that his team are improving, despite draws with Poland and Scotland this year presenting an uphill test.

That confidence inspires his belief that positive discussions about extending his tenure are a viable prospect.

"There is no point beating around the bush," he said. "If I honestly think that there has been progress and, as important, the FAI believes that there is a definite improvement, I think the two of us could come to some sort of agreement.

"Results are the most important thing and I think I will be in a better position to make that assessment (on progress) at the end of the competition.

"If you feel you are making a commitment and you just have the one competition and you get in and get out, I wouldn't be totally sure that's the right thing.

"Things like this here (Leicester) are going to crop up now and again but, seriously, I'm here, I want to do this job and I certainly wouldn't have want to have left it mid-stream."

Regardless of who is in the dug-out, O'Neill concedes that the next couple of years for Irish football will require a period of transition because of the age profile in the dressing-room: six members of the starting team for the Scottish match are over 30.

Since taking over, he has promoted the cause of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, the only two homegrown talents in his squad under the age of 25, and he implied that there should be continuity on the sidelines while the cast changes on the park

Essentially, he acknowledges that the problems posed by the shortage of youngsters knocking on the door have to be addressed in tandem with the demand for results. It is a tricky situation.

Pressure

"When I came here first of all. . . as John said, you start putting pressure on yourself, you want to go and qualify for the competition," he explained.

"And of course that's important because the last thing that you wanted was me coming in here and saying we're looking at something in the year 2018 or 2020.

"So what you really wanted to do is combine two things. . . there's an immediacy. You don't get the time at the other side so you have to try and get some results.

"These players, no matter how good a stalwart they've been, are actually the other side of 30 so we need some new blood coming in. We definitely need some new blood.

"At international level, you've got to go and search for some young talent coming through who you think can make a difference. You know that eventually they'll take the place of the older players but can they step up immediately? And that's the case here.

"Hopefully I'm not speaking out of turn, but I think that John, the FAI members, are hoping that this would be a longer-term commitment and that they do see that are some new faces coming in. And I don't mean making faces up for the sake of it. I mean people who'd actually make a contribution over the next 18 months.

"It's easy for me to go in and say, 'I've got a couple of campaigns and this side will be really great in about six years' time.' I'm not so sure that's what you really want to hear and to be perfectly honest I want to try and be successful."

In short, O'Neill doesn't want to just write off a campaign because refreshing personnel is a necessity. One suspects that his employers don't either.

O'Neill was speaking in Sligo after spending a couple of days sampling the FAI's Festival of Football leading up to today's AGM where an encouraging slant will doubtless be put on the association's financial picture.

The FAI still have a debt of €51.2m as a legacy of the flawed plan to sell 10-year-tickets to fund the cost of building the Aviva Stadium. But there are no suggestions there will be anything other than silence from the floor on that matter.

Delaney did speak to a local radio station in Sligo on Thursday, stressing that the FAI do not budget for making major tournaments but stating that the €12m for getting to France would help to service debt and fund development.

O'Neill doesn't feel an extra burden because of that, essentially because those problems aren't his concern.

Impact

What's clear is that the senior international side have a significant impact on FAI finances. Being competitive in every campaign is a must if tickets are to be sold.

So, the delegation going to Russia will be hoping for a favourable draw from the fourth pot, with O'Neill slightly miffed that seedings are drawn up midway through a campaign. Wales' jump to first seeds was firmly in his mind.

"It's great credit to them," he said. "But the system is something I find a little bit strange when our UEFA competition is mid-stream. You can jump greatly for a number of reasons.

"I think it might have even surprised the Welsh people that they have gone up so much, particularly since this qualification group is not finished."

O'Neill didn't say outright that he would fancy landing in the same pool as our neighbours, but he made the fairly obvious point that it would be better than drawing Germany once again.

As it happens, the quality of the performance against the world champions in Dublin on October 8 may determine if he gets the chance to carry out the task laid out in St Petersburg.

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