Saturday 17 August 2019

Stephen Hunt: You can question manager's tactics and substitutions, but not his position

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

Stephen Hunt

Martin O'Neill has earned the right to continue as Republic of Ireland manager and if he still wants the job then he should be allowed to do so. I don't see any obvious alternative and I don't see anyone getting anything more out of the squad.

A month ago, this group of players pulled off one of the greatest victories in Irish football history with the win in Wales. We got second place, and could have won the group. We would have taken that at the start of the campaign.

Of course there is disappointment and the biggest disappointment will come in June when the World Cup starts in Russia and we're not there. That's going to hurt. And there is a lot of anger after that 5-1 defeat to Denmark, but things need to settle down. Martin needs to have a chat with the right people and see where we are going forward. This was a one-off defeat - we had to go for it and we weren't good enough. But he can't be judged on that one game.

Ireland are getting better at underage level and that has been proved recently with so many encouraging results for the under 16s, 18s, 19s and 21s and we will have clarity in our style of play as they progress to the first team.

But that is going to take time. So do we sacrifice the Euros campaign to start building a new team under a new manager or go with Martin? I would seriously suggest that Martin has earned the right to give it another go with the players he has available, if he wants to.

You can question the tactics, the diamond, the half-time substitutions, and what his thought processes were, but only Martin knows what he was thinking on Tuesday night.

I must admit I didn't think the substitutions were right and I'm not too sure where we were going with it. The two players he brought on are technically very good but Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan lack intensity without the ball. We just needed to score one for the roof to come off. I didn't understand the timing.

It is not right to pick out individual mistakes in a game of that magnitude but you don't play the occasion. We didn't test them, didn't impose ourselves physically, even when James McClean pressed early on, we were not high enough to affect his running and take a gamble.

Unlike the build-up to the game in Cardiff, something just didn't sit right with me as we approached the second leg. One thing that bugged me for days was the final press conference with Martin O'Neill and David Meyler, the man he named captain. And I have to get it off my chest.

As the conversation turned to practising penalties, O'Neill jokingly revealed that Meyler had missed. The look the stand-in skipper gave his manager was one of complete disdain. I immediately thought, 'You're brave.' I wouldn't have even looked like that at Martin Allen and I really disliked him and his style of management.

Meyler seems like a nice guy. He did well against Moldova and Wales but he didn't need to get booked and miss the first leg in Denmark because I'm sure he would have started.

But if you are in a press conference, when the cameras are on you and journalists are watching your reactions, you have to show your manager respect.

I know he's new to the job, he's from Cork and he believes in himself, but you can't look at your manager like that. No wonder he was sacrificed at half-time. I'm surprised he started to be honest because O'Neill must have been seething.

And I wasn't comfortable when I read Shane Duffy had said "we've got the rashers and now we're going to get the bacon". We achieved nothing in that first leg to warrant that kind of talk. It was only half-time and 0-0 suited Denmark because they were confident they would score in Dublin. I said all along that I didn't like the first leg being away from home.

The only player in the current squad who has won the Premier League and Champions League is John O'Shea, and even he would never talk like that.

The only player I ever felt had the right as an Irish player to speak that confidently was Roy Keane, and he had earned it because he had the medals with Manchester United.

If he had come out and said that after the first leg, it might have carried some credibility. But then, he would never have said it, or thought it.

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