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Saturday 3 December 2016

Clever O'Neill covers all the bases

But jury out on new deal until October

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
John Delaney and the FAI will decide on a new contract for Ireland manager Martin O’Neill in October

It was subtle and bubbled very gently under the surface during Martin O'Neill's latest squad announcement but it was hard to avoid the feeling that he was making a case, in his own inimitable way, for another two years.

Perhaps it was the clever answer he gave to the hoariest of hoary old chestnut queries about the League of Ireland.

"I've watched Dundalk's home game...I don't think they want me to come to the matches. I've been an albatross for them and they haven't been able to win in the three visits I've made, two at European venues and once at home," he said.

It's a cliché and a tradition that someone throws one in about the latest form player in the local league and his suitability for an international call-up. Richie Towell's name popped up this time.

The premise is that the best League of Ireland players should be considered as potential senior squad members. The question is usually edged with a tiny note of belligerence because almost always, they are not and this is somehow interpreted as a slight on the local game.

Feelings

Every Ireland manager back to Jack Charlton has faced it and usually the answer comes in a mumble of appropriate words otherwise known as lip-service.

Only Brian Kerr had any deep feelings for the League of Ireland but he still put the lads playing in England and Scotland on the pitch when it came to the crunch.

This time, O'Neill had some answers. He has been to see Dundalk three times this season and was happy to tell us so, in the process nailing any suggestion that he is not giving due regard to the best team in the country.

More than that, he spoke about the difficulty in making an immediate assessment, confirming that he was, in fact, keeping a very close eye on events.

Later, he spoke about watching under-age games and when he was asked about the senior squad's imminent move out of Gannon Park to the new training complex in Abbotstown, he sounded like someone settling in.

While he spoke, the glass deadened sounds of heavy industrial activity made you wonder how they will be ready on time for the end of the month when O'Neill's players arrive. Abbotstown looks like one of those big Chinese dam projects you see on the Discovery Channel.

Diggers, dumpers, earth movers and cranes jostle for elbow room with more refined machinery putting the finishing touches to pristine new pitches of all shapes and sizes.

The main work under way is on the National Indoor Arena but all over the site, lads and lassies in hard hats are measuring and digging.

It's certainly different from the golden sands of Portmarnock and the view off to Lambay Island our best players have enjoyed for a number of years when it was visible through the driving rain or sleet. Now, they'll get to gaze across the fair meadows of Blanchardstown.

O'Neill was asked just one question about a new contract and he put it on the back burner. He hasn't spoken with John Delaney since the FAI AGM and won't think about it until the business of Euro 2016 is done.

But O'Neill wants two more years, there is no doubt about that and he may even have them already if his comments in Sligo provide a pointer. He told us there that as far as he knew, the FAI's intention was always to give him four years.

If the FAI tested the air after those comments, they would have found very little opposition to the idea. In fact, they would have found very little interest one way or the other.

Sad to say that Ireland's floating sports fans only tune into O'Neill's team for a few days before a game and the next one up is Gibraltar.

In other words, their interest is on pause until Germany come to town and that's when the real judgement on O'Neill will be made.

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