Tuesday 25 June 2019

Martin O'Neill to stay on as Ireland manager as he refuses to talk to media at awards banquet in Dublin

Martin O'Neill at the awards and (inset) Roy Keane
Martin O'Neill at the awards and (inset) Roy Keane
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE FAI expect Martin O'Neill to stay on as Irish manager for the Euro 2020 campaign, but the Derryman last night passed up the chance to publicly affirm his commitment to the job.

Stoke City are expected to announce Quique Sanchez Flores as their new manager over the weekend after he got the nod ahead of O'Neill.

And the week's developments have only succeeded in highlighting the unusual situation whereby O'Neill has yet to sign the deal with the FAI that was verbally agreed in October.

The 65-year-old was interested by the prospect of taking over Stoke and his assistant Roy Keane was set to be part of any package.

But discussions didn't go to plan with the Premier League club unwilling to offer a long-term deal – a contrast from their pursuit of Espanyol boss Flores who had the support of a larger number of the Stoke board and a five-year contract on the table.

It was his job to turn down, and he should take full charge next week – reports in Stoke say he will watch Monday's Premier League encounter with Manchester United from the stands.

That leaves O'Neill with the job of formalising his Irish future.

After a week of speculation surrounding his intentions, O'Neill, Keane and their backroom staff ended up in Dublin last night following a late decision to attend the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers' Association of Ireland annual awards banquet.

But he refused requests to speak at the event that is organised by football media, arriving late to the venue and walking past a number of camera crews and reporters without making a comment.

FAI officials said that he just wanted to be able to enjoy the evening. O'Neill has attended the event on an informal basis since his appointment as Ireland manager in 2013, although on one occasion he did stage a press briefing directly beforehand.

But he was a man in demand last night in the aftermath of a week where he dominated the news agenda – especially considering he had communicated the message via the FAI earlier this week that he would not be attending. Abbotstown officials say that was nothing to do with the Stoke situation.

In contrast with previous years, where he was a special guest at the top table, O'Neill sat at a table made up entirely of FAI employees.

The FAI now expect O'Neill to continue as their manager, and there is a strong possibility that the association will release a statement of their own in the coming days with comments from their boss.

That is the alternative to answering questions about the courtship with Stoke and what it means for the future of the FAI's highest-paid staff member.

He had previously stated that he was excited by the prospect of managing Ireland in their attempt to qualify for Euro 2020, with two of the three group games to take place in Dublin if the team succeed in qualifying.

But his willingness to consider the Stoke move raised doubts about his desire to proceed with a rebuilding brief.

It has also placed scrutiny on the FAI for allowing a situation to exist whereby they could have lost their manager for nothing. FAI CEO John Delaney was not present at the awards banquet.

The only hold-up with regard to Flores is the amount that Espanyol receive for his services. They are looking for a figure in the region of £3.5m and negotiations with Stoke are ongoing.

Potters chief executive Tony Scholes is in Barcelona to complete the deal with Flores indicating that he wishes to move back to the Premier League – Spanish media say that Espanyol have already started to sound out replacements as they seek to move on to a new chapter.

The FAI feel the O’Neill story will go on to a third term, and his next official engagement is the UEFA Nations League draw in Switzerland on Wednesday week.

Cork City manager John Caulfield scooped the Personality of the Year honour at the awards do, with his goalkeeper Mark McNulty taking the Goalkeeper of the Year gong.

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