Monday 9 December 2019

'You are right to criticise me' - Apologetic O'Neill sets the record straight

Manager regrets inappropriate comments but rejects broader criticism

Martin O'Neill at yesterday's press conference in Abbotstown Photo: STEPHEN MCCARTHY / SPORTSFILE
Martin O'Neill at yesterday's press conference in Abbotstown Photo: STEPHEN MCCARTHY / SPORTSFILE
Robbie Keane
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill walked into his briefing with newspaper journalists with a genuine desire to apologise for inappropriate comments he made at a function in Cork last week.

He also had a couple of other things that he wanted to get off his chest.

But first, the regrets. The context was a 'Bon Voyage' event hosted by Today FM where the Ireland manager made an unfortunate quip on stage about his trip to the Superbowl with assistant Roy Keane.

He joked that Steve Guppy and Steve Walford had also made the journey, in case people thought that himself and Keane were "queers".

His comments were criticised by Kieran Rose, the chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and while O'Neill only briefly addressed the issue in front of the cameras - when he was asked one question on the topic - he offered a more detailed apology in his press conference with print media.

"It was inappropriate and I might turn around and say crass now at the end of the day," said the 64-year-old.

"Almost the minute I had said it, I realised that I should not have said that, absolutely. I should not have said it. You are right to criticise me, believe it or not. Absolutely. It was inappropriate and I could not genuinely be more sorry, that's the case."


O'Neill went on to discuss the fact that one of his former team-mates Justin Fashanu was gay and stressed that he would be willing to help any initiatives to promote equality and inclusivity as part of his apology.

He confessed that his propensity for a one-liner in an attempt at humour can talk him into trouble. Earlier this year, a quip about the attractiveness of wives and girlfriends attracted some controversy.

"Well, I've got to say that somewhere along the line I've got to draw the line," he said, when that was mentioned.

"It was meant as a bit of a joke and that's fine, lads, it will be the last joke that I'll ever (make) for as long as I'm here. . . and hopefully that will be a while longer. It'll be the last one, alright?

"And my inappropriate behaviour, you'll probably pull me up for something and be quite right but I will genuinely attempt not to do it again."

Amid the contrition, there was some anger. O'Neill did take issue with an Evening Herald piece which said that "smug would be too strong a word" to describe the behaviour of the manager and Keane after the latter's stinging criticism of underperforming players.

The same article made reference to Ireland's poor position in the qualifying group before Scotland's loss to Georgia and the unemployed status of the managerial duo before they accepted their current gig.

"We qualified because we got more points than Scotland," O'Neill asserted, "They still had to play Germany and Poland, from which they got one point. We had to play Germany and Poland and we got three."

It was the use of the word 'smug' - even if the piece stopped short of describing him as such - and a reference to his position pre-Ireland that struck a nerve with the Derry man, though.

"You can't use the article (about inappropriate comments) to go and say other things that are not actually right about me," he said, tackling the author.

"I have been in this job two and a half years. I have never been smug, never, never been smug about anything. When we qualified, I felt vindicated.

"I have been described as a number of things in my life, not all complimentary, I agree with you but smugness is not something I do. If (term used was) not quite smug then it must be very close. I don't know what the next word is beside it in the dictionary, what sort of synonym is used for it."

O'Neill then dealt with any implication that he was in a bad way before the FAI came calling.

"When I took this job I turned down three other offers at club level," he continued. "You would not believe the offer I had to do a job, (before he decided to) take this job.

"So I was not on my uppers, believe it or not. I took the job because I wanted to do it, I felt it was an honour to do it and following some very, very good people who have done the job. Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Trapattoni.

"I felt it was an honour and I still feel the same way, absolutely."

One week off from the finals, the exchange was an unusual diversion from the football chat. There will, of course, be plenty of time for that.

O'Neill was in Stockholm on Sunday to watch Sweden swat Wales aside and he was impressed by their strength.

"I wasn't overly surprised," he said. "They're a good side. They were very much up for the game playing at home, they played very strongly but, no, I wasn't surprised.

"I know a considerable amount about them anyway having watched a lot of the DVDs. It's up to me to impart that knowledge to the players."


He described the mood in the camp as positive, while acknowledging that Keane did have to mend some bridges after his post-Belarus observations. Aiden McGeady, Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy were all in the firing line. McGeady received the harshest kicking.

One didn't have to read too far between the lines to conclude that O'Neill believed that his No 2 did overstep the mark on this occasion.

"Roy has spoken to the players," said O'Neill. "He felt he was over the top. I think he's apologised to the players and they've accepted it, and with reasonably good heart as well.

"People have to take a bit of criticism on the chin too, and Aiden is old enough to take it but I think he appreciated the apology from Roy.

"I think some of them are actually even echoing what James McClean has said to you, that it bucks you up.

"As regards his position and influence here - outside of the odd remark that he makes - Roy has been terrific."

Ultimately, O'Neill conceded that any mistakes made by the management team all come back to him.

"You do ask for Roy to come and speak to you (press) and I'm happy with that," he said.

"When he does, and I say 'you go and do the press' then it's my responsibility. I said the same to John Robertson, not that he wanted to do the press much. So it's my responsibility."

And with that, O'Neill was keen to draw a final line on the lingering issues hanging over the Bank Holiday gathering and place the focus back on the journey, which starts tomorrow.

Next Monday will be the manic one.

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