Monday 22 October 2018

John Giles: The special connection between the Irish team and the fans has been broken

14 November 2017; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 2nd leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
14 November 2017; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 2nd leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
John Giles

John Giles

There is now a serious issue of trust between hardcore fans of the Ireland senior team and Martin O'Neill over his willingness to talk to Stoke about the job vacated by Mark Hughes and now filled by Paul Lambert.

Over his time as manager, O’Neill has often spoken of the bond he feels between the team and the fans that follow them across the world to support the players and the manager. I think that connection has been broken.

It is an important bond and one that has played a significant role in many of the great nights and indeed, some of the not so great nights down through the years.

When the wheels came off in Poland in 2012, the fans stood to a man and offered their support.

Some were just there for the event but many were hardcore supporters, people passionate about Irish football and not just the senior international team.

When Robbie Brady scored against Italy in Lille in 2016, the relationship between players and fans, perhaps damaged by the two barren years after Euro 2012, was cemented when he ran straight to his family among the Irish fans in the corner of the stadium.

The scenes which followed had a national impact, dominating our hearts and minds for days after the event. The images showed what the team meant to ordinary people.

Back in November, when Denmark shredded O’Neill’s team at the Aviva Stadium, I think many, if not all of those fans were shocked by the performance and shocked by the mistakes made on and off the pitch.

In the weeks after, people were numb and analysis difficult. The debate broadened to include all aspects of the game in Ireland and O’Neill’s future as senior manager was put on the back-burner.

The announcement of a verbal agreement between the FAI and O’Neill before the final group game against Wales in Cardiff seemed to put a full stop behind the matter.

Now, it is very clear that O’Neill’s own thoughts on his future in management extended beyond the Ireland team.

According to reports, he spoke with Everton before Sam Alladryce was appointed and for a week, was toing and froing with Stoke until he turned them down.

I don’t know the fine details of O’Neill’s contact with Everton or Stoke and the pragmatist in me says that he was fully entitled to examine all options since he was actually out of contract with the FAI and had yet to sign a new one.

But I do know that he confirmed that he had a verbal agreement with the FAI and unless I’m missing something, if the offer had been the right one from either Everton or Stoke, then he would have given it active consideration.

It is very telling that much of the commentary I have read so far on this speaks of a general indifference to the notion that O’Neill was ready to walk and take over at Stoke when it seemed that he would late last week.

In the end, it’s all about commitment. Fans will forgive a great deal once they are convinced that everyone involved is fully committed and they now have very good reasons to wonder about O’Neill’s commitment.

Herald Sport

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