Sunday 8 December 2019

Sinead Kissane: Timing of O'Neill's contract a quick-fix to wrong problem

Martin O’Neill in thoughtful mood at the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Reuters
Martin O’Neill in thoughtful mood at the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Reuters
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

At his opening press conference as Republic of Ireland manager in November 2013, Martin O'Neill answered the first of many questions about his decision to appoint Roy Keane as his assistant manager.

"Someone asked me the other day, 'why Roy?' and I've been asking myself that question a number of times," O'Neill replied.

It was hard to tell if he meant what he said because the audience didn't know O'Neill and O'Neill didn't know his audience. "I was joking there," O'Neill pointed out before he got the response he was looking for.

Highlighting reaction on social media can be a useful way of belittling an article but it seems some supporters didn't need a nudge to give a negative response to the news on Thursday evening that O'Neill has agreed a contract extension to stay on for Euro 2020.

The most notable words in that sentence are 'Thursday evening', i.e. the eve of a World Cup qualifier.

Earlier on Thursday, when asked about his future, O'Neill said: "I don't think today is the day to discuss it", before going on to discuss it. When asked about Wales, O'Neill said: "there's no point in talking about the Welsh game, there's plenty of time to deal with that."

Funnily enough, the same thing could be said about his contract announcement.

The FAI and O'Neill could have taken the easier option of waiting to announce this either in the afterglow of making the play-offs or once the sting had gone out of Ireland's failure to make the World Cup.

But, no, that would have been way too sensible despite John Delaney recently saying "it's logical to leave everything (contracts etc.) until all the games are complete".

"Logical" must be a moveable feast because this contract announcement tells us O'Neill must be above a post-tournament review and above results.

The association's board members must also have taken the holistic view that stability is more important right now with the premature announcement also squeezing oxygen from the possibility of fire-fighting any pesky calls for a change of manager should this campaign finish belly-up.

O'Neill has one million reasons for staying on as Ireland manager. At that first press conference four years ago, O'Neill said: "I think John (Delaney) has told me that it's my remit to get to France." Remit achieved at last summer's Euros.

When O'Neill finally signed a new contract to cover this World Cup, O'Neill stated: "My own personal view, and I've proved it I think, is that Ireland's best chance of qualification for the World Cup in Russia lies with myself and Roy Keane."

Yes, Ireland were top of the group coming into 2017 but surely the notion of rewarding O'Neill with a contract extension should be based on where Ireland finish in the table as opposed to where they were positioned at one stage during the tournament.

It's like giving someone a gold medal for leading after 18 laps of a 25-lap 10,000m race as opposed to where they actually finish.

The chin-strokers would tell you that an easy way of measuring the worth of a coach is how much he's wanted by others. Recently the IRFU said New Zealand did everything they could to get Joe Schmidt to move back home.

What's the clamour like for O'Neill? Have club owners in the UK been banging down the doors of the FAI's numerous security minders so impressed have they been with the way Ireland play and their results?

It seems O'Neill believes his worth to the FAI is more than just about results. Besides the obvious Seamus Coleman, Jon Walters, James McClean et al, O'Neill and Keane are household names filling a void in a time when some Ireland players are less recognisable compared to the marquee names of the past.

When asked about his future two days ago, O'Neill said: "We qualified for a competition (Euro 2016) and I think season tickets have gone from 4,000 to 16,000, so I think there is some evidence we are doing OK."

Only 4,000 season-ticket holders before O'Neill took over? Mayo have around 3,800 Croke Park season-ticket holders and they're not a national team.

Mentioning the season-ticket holders' increase seems to have come straight out of the FAI commercial play-book.

Ireland have enjoyed some great and memorable days under O'Neill but he should be more concerned about results than bums on seats.

After the 1-1 draw with Georgia in Tbilisi last month, Tony O'Donoghue asked O'Neill if there was a quick-fix solution in terms of personnel to the way Ireland gave up possession. A tetchy O'Neill replied: "Well, I don't think there's a quick-fix, we have to try and do better with the ball".

Do better with the ball? What are they doing in training? It's true, there is only so much a manager can do. But the least O'Neill could do this week was put every drop of focus into Moldova and Wales. Instead, we had O'Neill securing his future when Ireland were still fighting for theirs in this World Cup.

The timing of the FAI's decision to give O'Neill a contract extension is a quick-fix to the wrong problem. Maybe the FAI should listen to their audience. Most Republic of Ireland fans want the team to be well-organised, play with an attractive game-plan with players who know exactly what their role is within that plan. Is that too much to ask for?

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport