Sport Soccer

Sunday 21 January 2018

Declan Lynch: We simply want Martin O'Neill to lead us out of our national darkness

It's a small ask really from our new manager. That, and we'd like to win the World Cup

COMPETITIVE: New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy
COMPETITIVE: New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You could call it the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, this long road down the quays to the Gibson Hotel. Martin O'Neill too would have passed these desolate monuments to "the good times", to the hubris of Paddy, as he made his way to this first encounter with the gentlefolk of the press.

What is it that they would want him to do?

Only a few things really – to heal the spirit of a people, to lead us out of the darkness of national failure like the Boys of 88, to make us feel once more that we are in good standing with the baleful gods, that we are lucky.

And maybe, just maybe, by the time he is finished, even some of those empty penthouse apartments out there on the boulevard will be filled with happy people with tricolours hanging from the balconies during the World Cup in Russia in 2018 for which we will be the "dark horses".

That is all we ask.

A few minutes before kick-off, there is a surge of excitement as laughing journalists are gently prodded out of the corridor leading to the conference room by busy men in dark suits. Clearly someone very important is coming – some of us are sure that it must be Mr Rob Dorsett of Sky Sports.

One can imagine O'Neill himself finding it all amusing, in that supremely well-balanced way of his.

When he finally gets to the top table, he is the Martin O'Neill we have always known, a deeply reassuring combination of the relentless competitor and the cerebral observer. A man secure enough in himself to have Roy Keane as his deputy.

Anything about Keane is batted away with the ancient device of humour, which will probably be needed in the difficult years to come, maybe in the days to come – high on the improbability of it all, some of us are forgetting that there's an actual football match on Friday, against Latvia.

Ah, the football. There will probably be times when the football starts, when we look back on these days with what is known to the drinker as "euphoric recall". We will see this week of good-natured press conferences and Late Late Show appearances as a vision of a remembered paradise.

"Try to enjoy it," O'Neill said, quoting a bit of advice he had been given. But a player and a manager of O'Neill's distinction also knows that there is only one true form of enjoyment to be found in the game. "My enjoyment will come from winning," he added.

Martin O'Neill has always been unusual among football men, for the way he could quite easily be mistaken for a senior churchman – one of the others who could pass for a bishop or even a cardinal, oddly enough, is Giovanni Trapattoni.

Yesterday O'Neill exuded an effortless moral authority, in touch with the needs of the people yet connected also to higher pursuits.

He became the Primate of all Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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