Saturday 29 October 2016

O'Neill defends Keane after apology

Ireland boss expresses heartfelt sorrow for offence caused by remarks during Cork visit

Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

This is the time when the qualities needed to be a successful international manager come to the top. When the pressure climbs, you need to be ready for it.

As a result of a vastly inappropriate comment in Cork during a lad's night out in the Opera House last week which was reported over the weekend, O'Neill knew he would face questions yesterday. He created that situation.

As a result of Roy Keane's outburst after the Belarus game, O'Neill found himself explaining the actions of his No. 2. The Corkman created that situation.

In the week before Ireland kick-off their Euro 2016 campaign, O'Neill found himself apologising to the global LGBT community and defending Keane's approach to his job.

In the week before Ireland's first game against Sweden, Keane found himself apologising to Aiden McGeady, a senior player of long standing,

O'Neill and Keane made huge, glaring and let's be honest, almost unforgivable mistakes and there is nobody else to blame for that but themselves. Let's get that straight from the start.


During a strange press conference, O'Neill took this writer to task and others for criticism he received in the last few days.

He was more than happy to apologise for his awful use of the word 'queer in the Cork Opera House and there was no doubt, his attempt to make amends was completely genuine.

But he also had another point to make which was a rejection of an accusation of smugness which he felt had been made in yesterday's Herald.

This is the offending passage: "O'Neill and Keane appear to have forgotten how poorly situated they were before Scotland lost out in Georgia or further back, before the FAI employed them.

"Smug would be too strong a word but they hold all the cards and the FAI can only grit their teeth."

O'Neill went to some lengths to deny smugness in his attitude to his job or his employer even if it is quite clear from the above extract that such an accusation was never made.

It was hard to escape the feeling that something else was in play because as the press conference rolled on, O'Neill's demeanour became more withdrawn, more intense which, in turn, begged the question; what else is bothering him?

He moved on to the issue of Keane's verbal volley at McGeady and other players.

At some point before a rescheduled training session, according to O'Neill, Keane had words with the players he publicly took aim at in Cork and if there was an issue, it is now resolved.

An apology was made to McGeady.

O'Neill told us that he holds the ultimate responsibility for everything Keane says, a point he made a long ago to his long time No. 2 John Robertson.

But there was no suggestion of a reprimand for Keane for his outburst, even though an apology was needed to smooth away concerns within the squad.

In fact, judging by O'Neill's assertion that sometimes, you have to man up and take criticism on the chin, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he backs Keane's comments down the line.

What all of this amounts to is a totally unnecessary splash of negative publicity at exactly the wrong time and the responsibility for that lies squarely on O'Neill's shoulders. He now has a dilemma with Keane.

The players will want to know which side he is on and by backing Keane's freedom to say whatever is on his mind and professing a willingness to take full responsibility for it, O'Neill made a clear statement.

No matter what standard you use, this is poor preparation for a major tournament finals and that is the real issue here.

O'Neill's personal difficulties over the remark in Cork which was, as he said himself, crass will not have a major effect on the squad unless some of them are gay. But it was a poorly-managed situation.

Keane's outburst is potentially more damaging and it remains to be seen how that situation will be resolved during the week.

There is one thing we do know and Keane, via Benjamin Franklin, gave us the perfect phrase for it.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

When preparation is poor, bad results usually follow although Mick McCarthy might have something to say about that.

Keane blamed bad preparation for his decision to leave Saipan. Yet the team came within an inch of a place in the quarter-finals.

You just never know what's around the corner in football.

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