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Martin O'Neill hits back at Kenny Cunningham in war of words over contract extension


O’Neill: Bullish about his record

O’Neill: Bullish about his record

Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

O’Neill: Bullish about his record

Martin O'Neill has hit back at claims made by Kenny Cunningham that Euro 2016 qualification shouldn't guarantee the Ireland manager a new contract.

Cunningham, Ireland captain for the final three years of his nine-year Ireland career, last month questioned whether O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane had extracted the best from their players during this campaign, the first under their stewardship.

"If you are asking me, 'Do I think we have produced our best under Martin and Roy?', the answer is no," said Cunningham. "If the answer was yes, then he (O'Neill) deserves another contract. I don't care if they qualified or not."

O'Neill, however, is adamant that should he steer Ireland to France next year, most likely through a play-off in November, then the target handed to him by the FAI two years ago would have been achieved.

"I think that's nonsense," he blasted. "Particularly coming from Kenny, as a former player, it's even more nonsensical.

"Kenny actually made the point even if we qualify I shouldn't automatically get a contract until it was demonstrated that I was getting the best out of the players.

"Well, I thought if you qualify, there's a very decent chance you are getting the best out of the players. I might be wrong; I might be totally wrong.

"This game is a results business. I would totally disagree with Kenny. It doesn't necessarily mean that if you haven't qualified, there hasn't been an improvement. But there's a fairly decent chance you have with qualification.

"And Kenny should know this himself because, historically, Ireland haven't qualified for every competition we've been involved in."

Although Wales and Northern Ireland are on the brink of reaching the tournament automatically, while Ireland are still scrapping for an indirect route to join their Celtic cousins at the showpiece, O'Neill insists consideration must be given to the difficulty of their opponents in Group D.

"We're up against world champions Germany, so that's one (qualifying) place gone for a start," argued the Derry man. "Then there is a resurgent Poland side, probably the best they've had for 15 years, while Scotland have enjoyed a renaissance under Gordon Strachan.

"You only have to look at the odds at the beginning, we were fourth favourites. I would say we would certainly be in the play-offs by now if we were in a few other groups."

Meanwhile, O'Neill has revealed that he won't be concerned about the risks of chasing the game should Germany power ahead in the penultimate qualifier on October 8. Ireland were mauled 6-1 by Joachim Low's side in the last meeting between the nations in Dublin three years ago.

"When you're 2-0 down, then I don't mind getting beaten by three, four or five if you really want to have a positive go at getting back into the game," explained the 63-year-old. "Losing 2-0 would not constitute a moral victory when we need to get something out of the game to qualify for France or at least play-off."

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