Tuesday 24 April 2018

'I'm not going to bring Robbie Keane in at the expense of one of my coaches' - Martin O'Neill

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"Who knows?" That was the stock answer from Martin O'Neill yesterday as the launch of Dublin's Euro 2020 logo prompted obvious questions about where he might be when the tournament comes around.

The traditionalist in O'Neill is unsure about the idea of moving the competition from a single or co-host to 13 different venues but admitted that yesterday morning's event in Dublin did make him think about how exciting it could be for Ireland if they qualified.

In the speeches, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny suggested that the responsibility would fall on O'Neill in that scenario.

But John Delaney later stressed that he was only looking to next March's game with Wales rather than looking any further down the line - and insisted that the protracted business of tying down O'Neill for the World Cup campaign was not the saga that was portrayed in the media.

The man himself was never going to get drawn into any expression of long-term commitment.

"Who knows?" he said.

What about Roy Keane taking over for that campaign?

"Who knows? Genuinely, did I say that before? Anything is possible. Do I think that Roy could go on and manage? I've said it all the time, yeah."

And what about a coaching role - in the shorter term - for Robbie Keane who is already part of the Euro 2020 project by heading up a street football initiative? Would he like to help Ireland's record goalscorer - now a free agent after parting from LA Galaxy - along the coaching ladder?

"I would have no problem bringing him in if he was around to do it," said O'Neill. "At this minute, I wouldn't bring Robbie in at the expense of one of my coaches.

"I don't think that would be wildly fair. But I would have no problem with him being around the place for anything he needs from us.

"But I'm sure he can plough his own career in a coaching capacity. I think the way he is going on, he'll be strong-minded enough to go his own way."

What O'Neill does know is that Ireland have climbed to 23rd in the FIFA world rankings on account of a good year's work with the big win in Austria meaning a further leap up the charts. That could prove significant if Ireland's attempt to qualify for Russia ends with a play-off place; the seedings for that scenario are determined by world ranking position.

The Derryman was in town last week so he didn't have much more to add to his post-Vienna reflections. He still intends to speak to Brentford striker Scott Hogan's agent soon in order to avoid another saga of sorts.

He was heartened by Darren Randolph's inclusion in the West Ham side for league duty at the weekend, believing it can only be good for Ireland if his clear first choice is regularly involved.


There was also a mention for Darron Gibson who is on the comeback trail at Everton but has completely disappeared out of the Irish picture since he missed the cut for the Euros.

"I don't know what the situation is at Everton and whether the manager (recent foe Ronald Koeman was not mentioned by name) thinks he's going to be an asset to them or not," said O'Neill. "He was given an extra contract I think before the manager came in.

"So whether the manager has a different view on that, I've no idea. If he's properly fit, he's an asset but Darron hasn't been properly fit for quite a number of years and that becomes a problem.

"You play two games and the next thing you know and then you've a twinge somewhere else. If he needs a run of games, is he going to get that at Everton? I don't know. If he's fit and raring to go and does play football matches, fine.

"I said to him at the time when he didn't make the squad for us that McGeady at least went out on loan. Darron didn't go out on loan and was therefore limiting himself to the number of games he would play.

"He could have gone on loan but he felt there was still a chance of playing for Everton at the time. I respect that decision. But if it doesn't materialise that's a chance you have to take."

Will Gibson ever return to the Irish fold? It's safe to say that's another question which firmly belongs in the 'who knows' category.

Irish Independent

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