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Friday 9 December 2016

O'neill's walking on water amid the drumlins

Relaxed Ireland boss dodges contract talk

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, at the launch of Celtic Pure €5m plant
expansion plans at Corcreagh, Co Monaghan with Chief Executive of Celtic Pure, Padraig McEneaney.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, at the launch of Celtic Pure €5m plant expansion plans at Corcreagh, Co Monaghan with Chief Executive of Celtic Pure, Padraig McEneaney.

The only thing that was different about our latest tryst with Martin O'Neill was the venue. The earthy smell of silage is not normally associated with professional football.

Our hosts, Celtic Pure Water, put on a great tented spread at their very rural bottling plant amid the rolling drumlins of Monaghan.

From the wide grins which tracked O'Neill as he marched around the facility cutting ribbons and suchlike, even planting something organic in a field which may have been potatoes, this will be a long remembered event.

Having the super slick and professional Bernard Brogan as your host helps too. All in all, then, a good day.

Well, no. Not really. The quality of the information received from O'Neill himself, who seemed to be bearing up well under a heavy and remarkably varied workload on a bright and sharp spring day, was as fogbound as ever.

Time

He had breakfast with some media partners, whizzed across to the Aviva for the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland launch and his feet had barely touched the ground there when he was on the road again, beating a path towards Shercock on the Monaghan/Cavan border.

By the time he sat down in front of us, he had plenty of time to think about how he would deal with the inevitable contract questions.

"We've qualified, I feel great, I'm looking forward to it at this minute. It was only at the breakfast this morning when I read a piece and I realised they are going to be talking about contracts," he said.

"I thought, 'Whoa, I'd better start thinking about it'.

But he didn't deal with it in any meaningful way other than to push it further down the road which in itself, was significant.

It looks like he will wait until he's good and ready which could be any time from now until late June or even beyond.

Here's some of what he said when asked about why a new deal has not been done and dusted and if any of this sounds familiar, it is.

"I don't think there's any great difficulty (with a new contract). We qualified and then we had Christmas coming up and I had a couple of personal things to attend to in January. I just went away there for a break," said O'Neill. "Coming back, I really don't see it being an issue at all. There's only been preliminary discussions but I left them on hold myself only because I was going away and it's not been an issue at all.

"I'm actually contracted anyway until we are actually knocked out of the competition so at this minute it's only a matter of having some discussions and taking it on from there.

"It's never been a big issue for me throughout my career, never mind anything else. I've tended, for the most part, to stick to contracts."

Which told us almost nothing. O'Neill is an option again for clubs in England and when asked about a possible get-out clause in any new deal, he was even less revealing.

"I really have not discussed it and hopefully, it is not a matter of procrastination, but I'm sure that, well, do you know, if that is the case I think, I think you would want to be a bit more open about those particular things. I don't want to have about 15 or 16 clauses in contracts and stuff like this here. I think that is the way John and myself will discuss it," he said.

After listening carefully to that, the thought struck forcibly that Celtic Water Pure might reject O'Neill as a quality control manager based on these answers. Murky to say the least.

Any idea when he might sit down for chat with the FAI, keeping in mind that the IFA have reached an agreement with Michael O'Neill on a new contract?

"I think I will sit down at some stage or another with John (Delaney) and we will get things through," he said.

"So Michael has gone and signed up which is great and deservedly so and well done, and everyone to their own."

And that, really, was that as far as any talk about his contract is concerned.

Vindication

This is not rocket science. O'Neill has the FAI, as they might say in Shercock, by the cojones and for reasons he best understands, is taking his time about releasing the pressure.

It is also not unrealistic to think that mentally, he has already achieved one of the goals he set for himself when he took on the job by re-establishing his profile as a successful manager in England and has not ruled out a return to management there if the right offer comes along. He agreed the qualification was a kind of vindication.

"The FAI put some faith in me in terms of me coming and trying to do the job and I think that that was obviously very important to me," he said.

The FAI gave him a vehicle to restore credibility and now they have reason to be worried about O'Neill's final decision.

It will be his decision and they can only hope that there isn't a Premier League club owner right now hatching a plan which includes O'Neill.

Everton would seem like a good fit. Just saying.

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