Sunday 25 March 2018

Comment: Time for Martin O'Neill to get over his own Danish pasting


Martin O’Neill endured a tetchy press conference with the media in
Switzerland yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / UEFA via Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill endured a tetchy press conference with the media in Switzerland yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / UEFA via Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Denmark. Anybody but Denmark.

It's the stench that won't go away. Something rotten, you might say. And it would appear that Martin O'Neill is still struggling to come to terms with the aftermath.

To seethe or not to seethe.

"Obviously it's been tough, really tough," he said yesterday, speaking at length for the first time since the painful 5-1 defeat at the Aviva.

"We lost the game. You want to try and qualify but you have to take the criticism that comes your way."

In response, the well-sourced reports that detailed his unhappiness with that criticism were raised with the Ireland manager. Did he feel that criticism was over the top?

"I think that would be up for you to decide on that," he said briskly during a 15-minute interview with the print media that at times got tetchy, but nowhere near as tense as the TV interview that followed.

In that Q&A with RTé's Tony O'Donoghue, the Irish boss bristled and it was clear from his manner that he is still smarting from comments in the aftermath of the night the World Cup dream died.

That criticism lingers; if anything the interest from Stoke has only served to reinforce his view that the perception of his work in Ireland is far too negative.

It would be wrong to say that he came into the mixed zone in Lausanne with the sole intention of going over old ground. There was a chirpier tone in discussing the draw and, in ruminations on the road ahead, an admission that there is work to do over the next while to refresh his Ireland squad.

But if the purpose of yesterday was to draw a line under the Stoke saga and move on with the World Cup pain in the rear view mirror, then the mission was unsuccessful.


The draw doesn't help of course. Two games with Wales is deja-vu territory, but it's the prospect of another pair of home and away meetings with Denmark that will complicate the process of leaving the past behind. How can it not come up?

That's the obvious angle from a challenging group which will apply pressure on an Irish regime seeking to erase the memories of one night in November. The importance of the results will not become fully clear until regular qualifying draws to a close but, in the short term, they will shape Ireland's seeding for the traditional phase of that process.

Leaving that aside, a few notable results are needed to try and bring the good vibes back.

Matches are what's needed right now because it's not unfair to conclude that O'Neill's desire to settle scores goes beyond gaining revenge on the Danes.

His contention that he was on the receiving end of a 'verbal attack' from O'Donoghue after the World Cup loss means that the post-match interviews are likely to continue along a soap opera theme that is of no benefit to anybody.

It cannot become the whole story. Good results and good football are what really shapes the public mood, not a good interview.

But in the absence of the meaningful opportunity to provide those things, the tension that is hanging in the air is building an image of a defensive camp that is happier to burn bridges than build them.

This is damaging to the front-of-house image. FAI CEO John Delaney said last week that O'Neill would address all questions arising from the Stoke situation when he spoke in Switzerland.

"I think John has explained it all anyway," was O'Neill's initial response when it was raised.

"He said you'd clarify if there were more questions?" asked one reporter.

"Oh did he?"

When pressed further on why he opted to stay with Ireland, O'Neill said that subject was for another day before eventually talking about how he has enjoyed the gig.

That line of questioning brought him back to asserting that the interest from Stoke and others showed that people in English football do recognise what he's achieved. "It's not a boasting thing," he continued. "I've had numerous opportunities in my time here, and I have stayed. So I don't take this job lightly.

"I think that the fact that people do actually want your services, I think it might be a compliment to the particular job that I've done." Evidently, he is perplexed by biting reviews of his performance. He is conscious of how fickle the business can be.

Rightly, he pointed out that if James McClean had taken the chance that followed Shane Duffy's early goal at the Aviva then the mood music this winter would have been entirely different. We really wouldn't have been worrying too much about the Nations League then.

"We conceded two goals within a minute, poor goals, and we're chasing the game," he sighed. "And we lose convincingly."

Regrettably, the process of digesting the result and the backlash has not been that straightforward. There can be a tendency from the media side of the fence to over-analyse interactions with the fourth estate.

It is true that the national team manager is addressing the supporters too when he lands in front of a camera - last week's FAI in-house production proved that the public won't buy the soft-soap approach during a fraught time - but the press may not always ask the specific questions that fans want answered.

There are punters out there who are tired of the circus. The problem is that O'Neill's anger is only succeeding in adding to it.

He needs to get over his own Danish pasting and start looking forward.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport