Monday 20 May 2019

O'Neill's bickering leaves a sour taste

Weird Wide World of Sport

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill at the UEFA Nations League draw in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/UEFA via Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill at the UEFA Nations League draw in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/UEFA via Sportsfile

Dave Devereux

I have been known to be a grumpy old so and so from time to time.

Generally I try to wear a smile and be pleasant to all and sundry, but occasionally there's cause for the lips to curl southwards and contrariness to take hold like a determined Boa constrictor.

Sometimes you have a tough day at the office, hunger takes hold or somebody looks at you the wrong way and the diva in your brain assumes full control.

However, even at my most cantankerous I'm only in the ha'penny place compared to Ireland manager Martin O'Neill.

His interviews with RTE's Tony O'Donoghue have held more interest than Ireland's woeful performances of late, but sadly not in a good way, as the cringeworthy and unnecessary exchanges almost need to be watched through fingers from behind the couch.

Ireland were pitted against old foes Wales and Denmark in the draw for the Nations League but that was only a sub-plot as it was the rivalry between O'Donoghue and O'Neill which garnered most public attention, with O'Neill flying off the handle like a toddler that has been refused sweets at the supermarket checkout.

Instead of moving on from what he felt was some sort of injustice, O'Neill seems to be holding on to the indignation he felt when asked some hard questions in the immediate aftermath of the 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Denmark.

It's not as if the RTE broadcaster used the sorts of inflammatory language that much of the public would have spouted after the Denmark debacle or called for his head, he's simply doing his job.

Similar to his colourful assistant Roy Keane, who waited patiently for the chance to get revenge on Alf-Inge Haaland, O'Neill lay in the long grass for the opportunity to have a go at the RTE soccer correspondent after what he deemed were unfair questions in the post-match interview after the disastrous loss to the Danes.

It's obvious that the Derryman was ready to attack, because most fair-minded folk wouldn't go off on one after the seemingly harmless two words 'hard luck'.

Blatantly he's still bitter that anyone would dare to have the audacity to question his managerial style.

He and his troops gleaned plenty of praise for a decent showing in the Euros, so the manager has to also be prepared to take stinging criticism when things go horribly wrong - and a 5-1 home loss to an average Denmark outfit is certainly that.

The O'Neill-O'Donoghue grudge match is getting tired now, so the Ireland manager needs to concentrate on his job and put the petty squabbling to bed.

Fans of the Irish football team are not asking for off-the-wall quotes or any sort of pantomime which other media darling managers can provide, just forthright and honest answers.

If O'Neill can't take a small bit of questioning from a relative pussycat like O'Donoghue, imagine how he'd fare if he took the reins of the England team and had their press baying for blood.

You get the sense that the Ireland boss is simply trying to deflect attention from his own shortcomings in the World Cup qualifying campaign, as well as the bitter taste left after his flirtation with returning to the Premier League with Stoke City the potential suitor.

There's no doubting you need a thick skin to be a football manager, but when you're getting paid a seven-figure sum you should rise above the pettiness, put personal grudges to one side and do the job you're getting the big bucks for.

When Roy Keane comes across as the pleasant one in a double act, you know your contrariness levels must have gone through the roof.

The sad reality is that O'Neill's fragile relationship with O'Donoghue is a microcosm of his current disconnect with a sizeable portion of the fans.

After his dilly-dallying before signing a new contract as well as sounding out other jobs, plenty are unsure of his real commitment to the cause, and more tellingly some are questioning whether they actually want him to remain in the hot seat.

O'Neill should be sending a strong message to fans that's he's one hundred per cent committed to the job and focus on bringing fresh blood into the Irish squad, instead of the silly barstool bickering with a journalist.

At the end of the day we all want the best for the Boys in Green and new players to come through, with qualification for major tournaments the Holy Grail.

Surely that's something we can all all agree on.

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