Wednesday 12 December 2018

Comment: FAI have full faith in O’Neill but confidence of the supporters will shape national mood for 2018

Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The view that the FAI were hedging their bets by allowing Martin O'Neill's contract to run unsigned was dismissed by the strong support offered by John Delaney yesterday.

In his series of interviews with a variety of different media groups at the Aviva Stadium, the FAI CEO firmly stood by his man.

"Our position did not change," said Delaney who, it must be said, was well capable of dealing with the questions that were pitched in his direction as Abbotstown sought to draw a line under a chaotic 10 days.

"He has done a very good job for Irish football. He has brought us to the last 16 of Europe. He has brought us to the play-offs.

"I think the night of the Denmark game was not the way for Martin O'Neill to finish as Republic of Ireland manager.

"I think it gets lost a bit just how well we've done in his time.

"Beating Germany at home, Bosnia over two legs, beating Italy in France, winning in Vienna and Wales; they are all very significant victories that we hadn't done in quite a period of time.

"That should be remembered in all of what has been discussed here. I felt - and the Association felt - that there was unfinished business."

And he is sure, too, that the Irish dressing-room will be feeling the same way.

"The one thing about Martin O'Neill is he always had the players playing for him, no matter what club he was at," he said.

It's hard to take issue with that point of view, especially if O'Neill follows through on plans to bring some new faces into the dressing-room, although he is not exactly blessed with options.

But those players will be happy. The board are happy. It would appear that O'Neill is now happy to stay on after a 'period of reflection' post-Denmark.

"If Martin O'Neill didn't want to manage the Republic of Ireland, he wouldn't manage the Republic of Ireland," as Delaney asserted.

The one part of the football family that was missing from discussions, however, was the viewpoint of the Ireland supporters.

If Delaney's takeaway from Denmark was that this regime had unfinished business, a vocal contingent of followers felt that the regime was simply finished.

And they have not exactly been won over by the Stoke saga and the front-of-house view that it's now business as usual and full steam ahead to try and book a place at Euro 2020.

Unfortunately, the responses to O'Neill's video message on Tuesday indicated that there's a bit of work to do in this regard.

Again, the usual caveats about reading too much into social media consensus spring to mind.

But the immediate reaction to the Derryman's interview with a member of the FAI communications staff - it wasn't quite Frost-Nixon - offered an insight into how those who follow Abbotstown's social media channels felt about things.

There were positive voices in the pack. "He qualified for one major tournament and missed out on a World Cup play-off, the team is bang average and we overachieve," argued one.

"He did the best we could with the players we have," wrote another.

Yet on the flip side, a greater number of voices responded negatively to confirmation he was staying. Take this for feedback.

"Martin should be sacked, we can do better."

"If I was Delaney I would have paid Stoke compensation to take him. He flirted with Stoke. Let him go! Sending Ireland back to the dark ages. Every country has moved on. Not us."

"Georgia looked like Brazil against us. You're telling me they have better players? Wise up."

These opinions exist out there, and the striking aspect of the FAI's itinerary for 2018 is the absence of home friendlies on the schedule at this remove.

That will change, with the likelihood of one game in Dublin this side of the summer. Beyond that, the UEFA Nations League draw in Switzerland will set out what else the regular punters have to look forward to.

There will be two 'competitive' home games in that competition; Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Turkey are the possible opponents.

While there are some decent sides on that list, they are not going to fill stadiums on the strength of their reputation.

The energy has to be created by the atmosphere around this Irish side, the same level of anticipation that brought more than 40,000 to a meaningless friendly with Latvia in 2013 which served as the opening act for the O'Neill/Keane dream team.

Delaney kept going back to the promise of 'new players' while he did the rounds, and this is an angle that O'Neill will doubtless be stressing when his turn comes in Lausanne.

Keith Andrews joked on Tuesday that he felt a bit of sympathy for Declan Rice because so much is expected of him. He's not a playmaker, either.

But on a dull enough morning at the Aviva, Delaney's mission was to assert with certainty that the FAI are now on a road which is leading back to that venue in June 2020.

"At the end of the day the manager is Martin O'Neill, OK?", he said.

In time, he will find out if the paying public are truly OK with that.

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