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Friday 9 December 2016

Cunningham: 'FAI must stall on O'Neill's new deal'

Kenny Cunningham
Kenny Cunningham
Martin O'Neill

Ex-Ireland captain says association need to weigh up options at end of campaign

Kenny Cunningham is in no doubt. The FAI must wait until the months after Ireland's involvement in Euro 2016 has ended before they reach any conclusions about Martin O'Neill's pitch for another two years.

The outspoken pundit believes that such a judgement should not be governed by qualification but by a common sense assessment of the campaign.

Even if qualification is achieved, Cunningham does not believe that another contract should be a given.

"For me whether we keep Martin or not is not whether we qualify or not. That discussion comes at the end of this group and not now," said Cunningham.

"Has there been progression and the biggest and fundamental question, have Martin and Roy and the coaching staff, have they got the best out of the players available to them.

Argument

"If the answer to that is yes,and we haven't qualified for a major championship, give him a new contract. If we qualify for a major championship, there may be an argument for getting rid of him.

"I think we saw that in the Trapattoni era when we qualified by beating Estonia. But we never had that discussion because we qualified. We gave him a two year contract and it all fell apart six months down the road. We were in a strait jacket. That's not sensible to me," said Cunningham.

His best hope for an Irish good news story from the Premier League is Ciarán Clark

"He's the one for me. He's been in my head for the last couple of years for a load of different reasons. I just like him. He's not the most physically imposing of players, he's not going to dominate like that, but he's tenacious and he likes the physical contact - which bites him in the backside at times," he said.

"I'm disappointed he hasn't made the breakthrough before now. And I mean now, before the games come around in September. Because by him coming through and really grabbing that jersey, I think it opens it up a little for us. It means we can free Marc Wilson into different areas of the pitch, like at left back.," said Cunnngham.

"I'd like to see Marc Wilson play in centre midfield. He's very comfortable sitting there, reading the game, putting his foot in, seeing danger, distributing the ball."

"I think it's an option, absolutely. Why not? The bottom line is we've got to do better. That's not being ultra-critical of anyone in particular but performances so far, if they continue as they are, probably won't be good enough to get us out of the group. I think that's fair comment.

"So they have to improve. Can they improve? Is there more to come out of the group? I think there is. We can all argue about how that is going to come. Is it by changing the system? Changing particular personnel? I think moving Wilson is an obvious one.

"I don't think we're quite there yet in terms of a system and in terms of players in particular areas of the pitch."

Cunningham holds up Robbie Brady as an example.

"At this moment in time Robbie best position, and we've seen him play it at Hull, is at wing-back. If you ask: How do we get the best out of Robbie Brady? For me it's as an orthodox left wing-back," he says.

"Have we got an orthodox right wing-back? I think so, we all know who he is (Séamus Coleman) and now we have two outstanding wing-backs who are perfectly suited to that role. Then the argument is to change the system of the team."

System

"I think there's more to come (from Ireland), I think we're better than what we're showing. I'll get pessimistic about Ireland's chances when I look at an Ireland team coming off the pitch having played to their maximum and if we're still not qualifying for major championships, then I'll get despondent and become a bit morose and start talking about where are the players and we need to go find some players."

For now, Cunningham does not buy into the notion that Ireland has fallen behind the other Premier League-centred nations and even though Wales have a clear advantage at the moment, he thinks the talent pool is big enough to bridge the gap. "The players are here and I think they have always been here," he adds.

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