Friday 15 December 2017

Hold The Back Page: Portents good for O'Neill to impress

Eamonn Sweeney

Hasn't there been some amount of tedious waffle about the appointment of Roy Keane as Martin O'Neill's assistant all the same? The clots who like to think of Irish football in terms of soap opera rather than sport were in their element as old grudges were resurrected and prosecuted with depressing vigour.

The vehemence which Saipan seems still to provoke is remarkable and not in a good way. If Roy Keane and John Delaney can bury the hatchet, there's no excuse for people to be still banging on about who got the good seats on the flight, the state of the training pitch, whether Keane deserted his country or was sent home.

The bottom line is that none of that stuff matters. What matters is whether the appointment of Martin O'Neill, an infinitely more important character at this moment in time than either Roy Keane or John Delaney, will give Ireland a chance of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships. Keane is an assistant and Delaney is an administrator but O'Neill is the boss.

I think the portents are good. Whether earning Leicester City two League Cups and four successive finishes in the top half of the Premier League, bringing Aston Villa three top-six finishes in as many years or, best of all, steering Celtic to the 2003 UEFA Cup final, O'Neill has always shown a great ability to extract the maximum from relatively ordinary players.

And that's what is exciting, not the prospect of more infighting which will send the likes of Eamon Dunphy into transports of tabloid joy and anyone who actually cares about Irish football into despair. Roy Keane has been handed a great chance to revive his managerial career because if things work out he will be an obvious successor. But it's also his last chance because if he screws this one up it'll be half-time punditry for the rest of his life. That and people wanting to bore the arse off him talking about Saipan.

And whether you love or hate the man I'm sure we can agree he deserves better than that.

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