Monday 20 January 2020

Ronnie Whelan: Martin O'Neill and Chris Coleman share similar DNA but the Derry man has the edge

Read Ronnie Whelan every week in The Herald

Martin O'Neill and Chris Coleman
Martin O'Neill and Chris Coleman

Ronnie Whelan

At first glance, there’s no contest. Martin O’Neill edges the battle of the managers in Ireland’s crucial showdown with Wales.

But this is a one-off, a local derby, a Cup tie. Call it what you want, it will be a humdinger of a game and both managers have a tough night ahead of them because there is nothing to choose between the two teams.

If anything, Ireland are favourites by virtue of recent results and form but this game will be decided on small margins and managers must make those calls.


These are two old-school managers who believe in the strength of the group and that is part of their DNA.

It comes from the fact that they are men born in small nations. They both grew up with the reality of a dominant neighbour to deal with and an aspiration to play at the top level in England.

I think this allows them a certain humility which, for instance, the England manager cannot afford to show.

I have to say, Coleman’s track record as a Gaffer doesn’t even come close to O’Neill’s and the Ireland boss also had a significantly better career as a player.

Sure, Coleman was stopped in his tracks by a car crash but even with a full playing career, he would never have packed as much into his CV as O’Neill did while he wore boots.

Of course, this all helps when you’re out on a training ground the day before a massive game like this.

Players listen to O’Neill and every time he speaks, they know they are hearing words from the frontline, from someone who knows the game backwards and forwards.

Coleman relies a lot on his obvious charisma and from talking to friends who know him, he is brilliant at bringing people into his circle and keeping them there.


Again, it seems like there can only be one winner here. O’Neill has been there, done that and won the prize both as a player and a manager.

The height of it for Coleman was a couple of promotion medals and not a whole lot else.

But he does have some very fresh memories to help him manage this game. He knows he was able to steer a course to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and that must fill him full of confidence

He also has Gareth Bale and I can only imagine how reassuring it is for Coleman to watch his star man walk out on to a pitch at the start of a big game.

Bale is the wild card here but if it came down to a straight battle of wits, my money would be on O’Neill.


Unusually, both managers are dealing with high expectations and neither are within a country mile of the sack if they fail.

O’Neill has driven Ireland to the top of Group D and while injuries have caused him some problems this week, I think most of us feel we should have enough to beat Wales.

So O’Neill and Ireland carry the favourite’s tag, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t have any worries about that.

This is a really confident group of players and O’Neill and Roy Keane are in a rhythm. That’s the moment to embrace the pressure.

The pressure on Coleman and Wales comes from the simple fact that they must get something from this game, never mind that an entire nation has had a taste of the big time and want some more after many years without anything.

They will forgive him a great deal but he has more to think about than them, including his own future after Wales.

He’s a hot management ticket at the moment. He carries himself well and I could see him working in a big club outside England very easily.

But after raising Wales to such heights, he doesn’t want to replace that with the tag of a flash in the pan.

The only way to avoid that is to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia but right now Wales are a distance away from that.

If I am reading all of this correctly, I believe they will be in a much worse place tomorrow morning than they are now.

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