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O'Neill on the back foot as pressure mounts

Contenders line up as Ireland manager plays out the final act of a play that delivered in patches

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Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, pictured at last night’s friendly clash with Northern Ireland

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, pictured at last night’s friendly clash with Northern Ireland

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane

Mick McCarthy

Mick McCarthy

Stephen Kenny

Stephen Kenny

Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon

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Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, pictured at last night’s friendly clash with Northern Ireland

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has many fine qualities. Among them, an ability to handle criticism. "If I couldn't face that, I wouldn't be in this job," he's said.

While useful, thick skin and a hard neck are not the most important attributes required for the job of managing a national football team.

Since Ireland had a one score win in Cardiff in October last year, the Boys in Green have been beaten by Denmark, Turkey, France and twice by Wales.

There have also been draws against Denmark (twice) and Poland.

On the positive side, there was a win in a friendly against the USA in June with a 90th minute goal.

Of Ireland's last five competitive games on Martin's watch, the record is poor. Draw-Loss-Loss-Draw-Loss.

From a possible nine points in the Nations League, O'Neill's men have earned a single point.

Pressure

No wonder the manager admits, "There's pressure on me."

In physics, pressure is quantified as "relative" or "absolute."

To gauge the pressure on Martin O'Neill, scientists would need to take into consideration an upgraded €1.9 million-a-year contract bestowed on him by FAI supremo John Delaney in January.

Should the FAI invite Martin to quit before our direct interest in Euro 2020 ends, there will be compensation of around €3 million for Martin and his backroom staff to be discussed.

As Martin must know, there's no scientific gauge of pressure in football management.

Thirteen years ago, when John Delaney opted not to renew Brian Kerr's contract, the Greener's final five competitive matches, all World Cup qualifiers, had been Draw-Win-Loss-Win-Draw.

Indeed, Kerr's win ratio remains significantly better than O'Neill's, whose average win ratio lags behind that of all Ireland managers since the Charlton era with the exception of Steve Staunton.

Though to his credit, Martin guided Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals.

Today, he views that period of his life as if it's a vanished golden age.

As the manager must know, it's never too early to do some forward planning. So with that in mind, who could eventually step into Martin's shoes and do a better job?

Roy Keane would appear to be in pole position to take over as Ireland manager. As O'Neill's assistant, he knows the ropes and has had five years to learn from the man they called Mister Motivator when he was manager at Leicester 20 years ago.

Despite having performed heroically at Sunderland, where he earned promotion to the Premier League, before things went pear-shaped, Roy's time in club management hasn't been inspiring.

If there's a question over Roy's ability to excel as a manager in the manner he did as a player, it must stem from Alex Ferguson's remark about Roy having demons which could surface and upset the smooth running of carefully laid plans.

Ipswich Town let manager Mick McCarthy go at the end of last season. Today, they are bottom of the Championship.

McCarthy, who took Ireland to the 2002 World Cup finals, is now regarded as a miracle-worker for his accomplishments with cash-strapped Ipswich.

Combative

He could be just the man for the Ireland job.

"I have to say I enjoy the combative nature of it," he said recently, speaking about management. "I enjoy the managing of players and solving problems, both on the pitch and off the pitch, dealing with all the things that come with it."

While the nation was divided over his handling of the Roy Keane incident in Saipan, McCarthy brought Ireland, sans Roy, to the last 16 in Korea-Japan.

Dundalk's excellent manager Stephen Kenny will have many advocates when it comes to considering O'Neill's replacement.

But in the realpolitik of international football, our local league may be viewed harshly as a cargo cult by comparison to the Vatican-like empire of elite football.

Be prepared for analysis of the merits of Neil Lennon, Gordon Strachan, Chris Hughton and Brendan Rodgers in the coming weeks while accepting that the FAI are likely to adopt a conservative stance and ignore the opportunity for a more constructive, dynamic and radical approach to solving the problem.


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