Sport Soccer

Monday 23 April 2018

'I don't deserve to stay on if I don't get to Euros' - Martin O'Neill

Martin O'Neill is well aware of what's expected of him and his new regime

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IN truth, Martin O'Neill's debut press outing as Ireland manager was summed up by what he didn't talk about.

Save for a passing reference to Robbie Keane's captaincy and a later query about the long-term prognosis for the Tallaght man and his pal Richard Dunne, there was precious little discussion of the specifics of his squad, or the promise of the players that encouraged him to take the job.

Instead, the core of his many interviews revolved around Roy Keane, the man who will assist him in the challenge of getting the best from the squad that failed in their World Cup mission.

The week ahead will give Giovanni Trapattoni's successor more time to inspect the squad at his disposal and offer his thoughts but, ultimately, the only certainty to be taken from Saturday's exercise is that Ireland's new manager is an articulate man with a range of thoughts on the journey that brought him here and the broader issues he faces on the road ahead.


O'Neill said it took Keane four-and-a-half seconds to say yes to becoming his assistant, following on from John Delaney's insistence that he required 37 seconds' thought.

There had been suggestions, however, that Keane would be insulated from dealing with the 'suits' directly. O'Neill thinks differently.

"I'm hoping the relationship will develop in such a way that Roy will – for want of a better word – expand and grow into some things that he might not really have been bothered about.

"That's what I hope will develop. But again, if Roy is really uncomfortable with something, then I'll handle that, not a problem," he said.

The 61-year-old spoke to Keane on Saturday evening to break the news that he was on media duty on Wednesday. That should provide a similar level of interest to Saturday's formalities.

O'Neill, half jokingly, suggested he might tell his assistant to hold back a little.

"That might be top of the agenda on my next meeting with him," he said, before turning to journalists, who work in the north-east of England who also cover the Irish beat, and smiling: "He scared the crap out of you, didn't he?"

O'Neill added: "I think Roy himself has grown since his time in management. He's had a wee bit of time and I think he will feel that he might have attacked certain things a wee differently, but, again, I don't want Roy to lose all those things that make him endearing to you."


The FAI eventually had to tell Trapattoni to leave the couch and start going to games on a more regular basis.

O'Neill (below) will kick off with a different mindset and, in tandem with Keane, will take in a lot of matches.

He even floated the possibility that his former assistant and good friend John Robertson, who has struggled with his health recently, might watch some matches on his behalf, although that appeared to be thinking out loud rather than announcing a firm plan.

Unlike Trapattoni, O'Neill will pay due respect to the League of Ireland and it helps that Keane also likes to take in a game on his trips home.

"I hope to basically be everywhere," said O'Neill.

"I had that time at club level where you are depending to a great deal on a scouting system for players, but here are you are limited to the number of players you have, so from that viewpoint, it will be fine. I will be expecting to see players every week, midweek, and I expect to be here (Ireland).


In the aftermath of Trapattoni's departure, there was a lengthy discourse about what defines an acceptable level of expectation.

The consistent theme from the top table to the later, smaller gatherings is that O'Neill is fully conscious of his remit and that's bringing Ireland to Euro 2016.

He'd heard from Delaney that Ireland will be second seeds unless Romania win both legs of their World Cup play-off with Greece, but he doesn't believe that will dramatically alter things; it's the expansion from 16 to 24 teams that is the major plus.

"I wish that could guarantee you qualification," he said.

"God Almighty, I would go to the Bahamas for two years then. Obviously, it should help, but it doesn't guarantee a thing.

"I think the expectation here has been pretty high since Jack Charlton delivered. I have the two years (contract) and I think that is right. If I don't make it, I don't deserve to go on. That is the point, unless we are really unlucky with a situation that arises like the Thierry Henry incident or we were genuinely unlucky in two games."


Trapattoni's style of play also became a huge talking point and O'Neill indicated he had no firm thoughts on his strategy from this point forward; the 10-month wait between now and his first competitive fixture is, he admits, an unusual scenario to inherit.

He's operated different formations with different clubs, but will check out his available hand this week and plot from there – he will also make a call on supplementing the coaching department with the current team consisting of O'Neill, Keane and goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh.

Looking to the next seven days, he may experiment for the Latvia and Poland games, although, in the longer term, he is also unwilling to hand out caps for the sake of it.

"I am going to be really flexible about these things," he said. "Most of the players I will be dealing with will have caps, so I don't want to – in the future – dish them out because they are there.

"But at the minute, having asked the players to come this far for two friendly fixtures, I might show a wee bit of leniency and look at changing things around from game to game."

A longer term consideration is where stalwarts Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane will be at the start of the next campaign.

They are two icons that will be difficult to replace. Dunne misses this gathering as he rests a long-term groin issue.

"Richard has done remarkably well considering that probably this time last year, he thought he would never play football again," said O'Neill.

"One of the things I have to genuinely consider is that little bit of luck, so that when it finally comes round to the day, you have your best players available."


When O'Neill was asked about his final days in his previous job at Sunderland, he released some thoughts that had been clearly bubbling under the surface for some time.

He was replaced at the Stadium of Light by Paolo Di Canio, who had some unkind things to say about the level of fitness and general habits on Wearside.

"Paolo Di Canio? That managerial charlatan," O'Neill started. "Paolo stepped in there and, basically, as weeks ran on, he ran out of excuses. I had a wry smile to myself.

"What you'll find interesting is that when he started, the team wasn't fit for the Chelsea game. Then the following week when he won at Newcastle, not being fit wasn't mentioned.

"Then about two weeks later, after they got mauled by Aston Villa, someone asked him about the fitness. Suddenly, he didn't know where to go. Because the team, as it progresses, should be getting more fit.

"And then, at the start of the season, when he lost by a late goal at Southampton, he was asked about the fitness regime, that he was going to have them the fittest team in the league. Suddenly, the fitness wasn't for that game, but for Christmas, when the winter months set it.

"I'm hoping at some stage or another when John O'Shea asks me at the dinner table to pass him the tomato sauce and I will dispose of it immediately.

"But then, if I feel you can't win games without tomato sauce, I will empty it on his plate, with the chips."

It was a withering put-down that his new assistant would have been proud of delivering.

Irish Independent

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