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Tuesday 6 December 2016

O'Neill bathes in Euro glow

Relaxed Ireland boss is showing benefit of impressive run

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

It must be said, an away win in a World Cup qualifier against big rivals is better than Botox for filling in a furrowed brow.

Martin O'Neill, by his standards, was a fresh-faced ray of sunshine when he turned up to press the flesh at UEFA's Dublin 2020 logo launch in the CHQ building on the North Quays.

Stretching

With four luxuriant months stretching out in front of him as the manager of the best team in Group B and nothing of a footballing nature to overly concern him, he had every reason to spread a glow of contentment around the room.

Better still, a meaty ten place jump in the FIFA rankings which has all sorts of good consequences for future tournaments to cap a great year. Why wouldn't he be happy?

Mind you, when Enda Kenny cracked what might loosely be called a joke about getting to the Euro 2020 finals, asking FAI John Delaney to see could he arrange it and then correcting himself with a mildly embarrassing exhortation that we should "leave that to O'Neill", he must have shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Everyone else did. Here was proof positive that sport and politics should never mix.

An Taoiseach also managed to fire in a reference to Mayo GAA which may have raced above UEFA bigwig Frantisek Laurinec's head but caught the FAI between the eyes.

It's a competitive world out there and this was an association football party.

To be fair to An Taoiseach, he lost the parish pump derby 2-1 to Sports Minister Pascal O'Donovan who managed to squeeze two references to his Limerick constituency into the first few minutes of his turn on the podium.

That kind of thing never ceases to be wearing on the soul but it was hard to be too downhearted once the UEFA videos started to role and a real sense of what will happen in about three and half years time in our great capital city settled on the crowd.

How often have we watched travelogue presentations of host cities for these big football events like kids at a sweetshop window?

Over the years, the images have become less exotic because anyone who follows Ireland has visited most of these cities. To see Dublin's skyline in amongst them was very gratifying.

"Today brought it (Euro 2020) all a bit closer," said O'Neill. "Here today, there's a bit of spirit and buzz about the place. Suddenly when you see the stuff up on the TV, you think that's quite exciting."

O'Neill will wait and watch to see whether the multi-city format works although he favours the traditional tournament finals set-up.

"It will be interesting to see how it goes. If this is a one-off and it works fantastically well then perhaps it will become permanent."

Traditional

"I would have been more down the traditional route of doing it in one particular country, or co-hosting it with another country pretty close by. It will be interesting to see how it goes.'

"It might be an absolute roaring success. I genuinely don't know. The competition itself may determine if that's the way they are going to go in the future. Was it Platini's idea? Let's see how it goes."

He has a pragmatic view of Dublin's involvement as a host city.

"Let me put it this way, if we're not going to host the tournament, then the second best thing is to play two matches here," said the Ireland boss.

On matters relating to his team, O'Neill confirmed that a meeting with Scott Hogan is not far away.

"I'd hope to speak to the agent and speak to him. I'd follow it up so the next time you speak to me, I'll definitely have done it.

"We definitely need someone who can score goals regularly and I think he can do that. His work in the penalty box, he can take chances, there is no question about that," he said.

Part of yesterday's logo launch was a segment led by a message from our greatest ever goal poacher, Robbie Keane, who is the face and energy behind Dublin's Legacy EURO 2020 project to bring street football back to kids.

Keane's next step will be management-and O'Neill would have no problem helping him along the way.

"I would have no problem bringing him in. At this minute I wouldn't bring Robbie in at the expense of one of my coaches, you know, I don't think that would be wildly fair.

"But I would have no problem him being around about the place, anything he needs from us, any sort of help if he was asking for it.

"I'm sure he can plough his own career in a coaching capacity. I think the way he is going on, he'll be strong minded enough to go his own way."

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