Shaun Maloney backs Martin O'Neill to stay on with Ireland
Scotland forward Shaun Maloney has backed Martin O’Neill to remain as Ireland manager through to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and admitted his side will feel the pressure when they take on Georgia in Friday’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.
Gordon Strachan’s Scotland are in pole position to finish ahead of Ireland after their win against O’Neill’s side in Glasgow last November was backed up by a draw in Dublin last June, but a slip in Georgia will open the door for the Irish to get back into the mix for qualification.
Former Celtic striker Maloney, who scored the winner in the first game and then saw his shot deflected into the net by John O’Shea in the re-match, has told Independent.ie that a weight of expectation is on his team this weekend.
“There is pressure on us in Georgia,” Maloney told us. “Even though we are in a decent position in the group, Ireland are right on our tails and we know that we cannot afford to slip up in this next game.
“We still have a chance to finish in the top two and get that automatic qualifying place, but there is nothing between the Scotland and Ireland sides and we know that it can all turn around if we have one indifferent result in Georgia.”
Maloney went on to give his support to O’Neill to remain in his post with Ireland beyond the Euro 2016 qualifiers, as he suggested the coach who gave him his break at Celtic is the idea man for the job.
“Martin O’Neill is different from any manager I have worked under and he has so many great qualities,” states Maloney. “I will always have the utmost respect for that man as he saw something in me and gave me a chance to play for Celtic, which was a fantastic honour.
“I could sense after our game in Dublin back in June that the media in Ireland are pretty negative about Martin at this stage, but he is a fine coach and Ireland would do well to get anyone better than him. I’d say let him get on with the job for the World Cup qualifiers, absolutely I would.
“It goes without saying that he is a very good manager and quite intense in certain aspects of what he does, but much of his training ground work tended to be delegated to his staff at Celtic.
“Martin has also appointed an assistant in Roy Keane as his assistant and he will be demanding of those around him. Keane came to Celtic during my time at the club and the first thing you noticed about him was the standards he set himself and the standards he expected from his team-mates.
“He didn’t stay long at Celtic, but I remember him in an Old Firm game at Ibrox and even though he probably wasn’t fully fit, he was the best player on the pitch that day and I feel privileged he was my teammate even for a short period.
“He has stated he will be back as a manager sooner rather than later, which I never doubted. The job he did at Sunderland was fantastic and having played with him, the idea of him being anything other than supportive of his teammates is wide of the mark in my experience.
“Roy just wanted 100% commitment from his teammates and was very straight forward in telling you if you dropped below that level which I never saw as a problem.”
Maloney is now back in English football following his move from Chicago Fire to Championship side Hull last weekend and he will play a pivotal role in Scotland’s final push to edge Ireland out of the race for a place in the Euro 2016 finals.