Martin encouraged us to pass
IT WAS FRUSTRATING to hear during Martin O’Neill’s time in charge that Ireland never played football the right way.
Our midfielders were regularly in the spotlight for that. I was probably lucky that I didn’t get as much criticism as Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan or James McCarthy. My job was to win the ball back and get it to a better player.
Martin would always encourage us to pass; he’d have a go off me the whole time, saying he needed more. Fans and media want to see attractive football but results are the number one aim. It’s a balancing act.
Take the Slovakia game that Ireland lost on penalties in October 2020 in the Euro play-off. It might have been ugly, but Martin’s teams would have found a way to win that game.
Some of the biggest and best moments you’ll remember as an Irish fan were not games of beautiful football. But we still talk about them, how they made us feel emotionally. The Shane Long and Robbie Brady goals on teams I played on will be remembered as fondly as Ray Houghton in 1994 and Jason McAteer in 2001.
When those debates raged, I needed to learn to block out the noise. I played one game for Ireland where I got a 5 out of 10 rating in a newspaper the next day.
But in our camp afterwards, Martin and Roy were ecstatic about my performance. You have to step back and realise their views are most important.
It would bug me when suggestions were made that there was a lack of thorough analysis in the Ireland set-up. Martin looked back at Ireland games all the time; he’d be getting onto Ger Dunne, the lead analyst, for the footage straight away if we lost and for away games he’d watch them on the flight home.
Same after training in Castleknock; the players headed for lunch and Martin to his office to watch videos of the session, see if he could spot anything.