Thursday 13 December 2018

Sinead Kissane: Martin O'Neill's condescending interview reveals an awkward truth

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The word 'revenge' was mentioned twice in the opening 30 seconds of Tony O'Donoghue's interview with Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill in Switzerland on Wednesday.

O'Neill mentioned revenge in relation to Ireland being drawn to play Denmark in UEFA's new Nations League tournament, two months after the 5-1 hammering by the Danes in the World Cup play-off second leg in Dublin.

O'Donoghue also referenced revenge with regard to Wales with the win in Cardiff last year one of the most memorable nights of O'Neill's reign.

But there was a twist to O'Neill's revenge motif that few saw coming.

It sounds presumptuous, but it seems this rematch with O'Donoghue was what O'Neill had been waiting for since a robust interview following the horrible loss last November.

O'Neill turned the tables on O'Donoghue on Wednesday by asking if he was "disingenuous" when he said "hard luck" to O'Neill before their post-match interview a few months ago.

I must admit that the 'disingenuous' connotation of those terrible words "hard luck" must have passed me by. But really, poor O'Neill; it's a terror the stuff he must put up with when he's only on an annual salary of around €1m.

O'Neill went on to accuse the RTé soccer correspondent of a "a real verbal attack".

Undoubtedly, there are various interested parties who would have preferred if the interview with the state broadcaster had rolled a little differently.

After checking the potential of a few new suitors (as is O'Neill's right), his employers may have wanted a greater charm offensive in his first interview since signing a new two-year deal with the FAI.

As for the rest of us, maybe there's a part of us which would have preferred if O'Neill had rolled out the convenient party line, and had gone with the bang of a 'brand new era' bluster just so we could all go on with convincing ourselves that the Danish humiliation never happened.

But real life doesn't roll like that.

O'Neill's behaviour raises questions of what we really want from managers when it comes to dealing with the media.

Dublin boss Jim Gavin gets it in the neck from some pundits for reeling off boring quotes and for not allowing the mask to slip when it seems natural to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum, England rugby head coach Eddie Jones has the media eating out of his hand with his colourful and controversial lines, yet it's hard to escape the notion that he is toying with us and that we're no further to truly knowing him than we are with Gavin.

The truth hurts more than falling for an act. Because while the tetchiness between O'Neill and O'Donoghue has become a new normal, this week's interplay left you shifting uncomfortably because the more O'Neill made the interview about O'Donoghue the more it revealed about the Derryman.

Why is the manager of our national team getting bogged down over two inoffensive words the reporter said to him before an interview?

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Shouldn't he be musing over more important matters like making Ireland good again? Why is he sounding like he thinks we should feel super, super lucky to have him as manager with his "record"?

Why is he effectively trying to humiliate O'Donoghue as O'Neill, once again, wrestles control by deciding to finish the interview on his terms?

Despite all the criticism and negative below-the-line commentary about his behaviour in the interview on Wednesday, O'Neill actually did us a favour.

Far removed from the in-house interview he did earlier this month when he confirmed his intention to stay, at least O'Neill let his defences down in the interview with O'Donoghue - by being defensive.

What we saw on Wednesday was as revealing and informative an interview with a manager as we've seen recently.

O'Neill's battle to win the power struggle was ultimately self-defeating because he showed us how he can behave with condescension and pettiness.

As he admonished O'Donoghue, who O'Neill seems to struggle to understand also has a job to do, it was like he was admonishing everyone else who dared question his managerial style.

And while some might say the media are making too much about this incident, sometimes the real revelations are in the small print.

I'm not going to tut-tut O'Neill for being himself in an interview.

Irrespective of your opinion of him, this week we got a fuller view of how he sees himself and how he treats others, as unpalatable as that was.

So, if you're hoping for a manager who only thinks of the big picture, who understands that the impression the public form of him is also built by the way he handles interviews, a manager who rises above personal grudges, well, as someone, somewhere once said: hard luck.

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