Sunday 19 November 2017

Martin and Roy are still an odd couple

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with assistant manager Roy Keane during squad training at Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau, Moldova.
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with assistant manager Roy Keane during squad training at Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau, Moldova.
Martin O’Neill steps in as players clash during the World Cup Group D Qualifier match against Moldova at Stadionul Zimbru, Chisinau, Moldova

Back in 2003, a documentary production company embarked on a series of investigations into the psyche of various public figures and chose Roy Keane as a subject.

Called 'Inside the Mind of Roy Keane', it was eagerly anticipated in a post-Siapan Ireland still reeling from the impact of events surrounding the 2002 World Cup finals.

As it transpired, the programme didn't reveal much that was new but through it and Keane's own words in a variety of books and interviews since, it became obvious that his relationship with Brian Clough was a key influence on him and would remain so forever.

How good it would it be to send in the same team again right now for anther look and while they are there, broaden the piece to include Martin O'Neill, another with a clear Clough attachment.


It would be some challenge for interviewers to cope with two men capable of the most grumpy, rude and bitter responses to simple enough questions but on the evidence of O'Neill's interaction with microphones since he became the Ireland manager, Keane would be the easier task.

It's obvious where the men learned how to deal with the media. It can easily be traced back to Clough's often patronising demolition of anyone sent to interview him which was often done for no other reason than to reinforce his own sense of intellectual superiority

Clough recognised that television would encroach further and further into his world and understood that he was better off controlling than being controlled by the medium.

But sometimes he just humiliated an interviewer because he could and that was wrong.

Clough could make an interviewer's legs turn to jelly in the same way Kenny Dalglish's long stare and silence defied all the rules of television and forced reporters to gibber uncontrollably to fill the terrifying audio desert the Liverpool boss loved to create.

O'Neill does the opposite but is having the same impact. His ongoing battle with RTé's top football man Tony O'Donoghue, a consummate professional liked by just about everyone, attracted a surge of criticism on social media on Sunday night, an interesting thing after a 3-1 away win.

Reviewing the video, there is no doubt that he was primed and prickly the moment O'Donoghue opened his mouth and if that his now his default mode, it is more than unfortunate, given that it is one of the few times the public get to interact with the Ireland boss through the media.

Since the Cork Opera House gaffe, O'Neill has withdrawn from the front-line steadily, following a path long ago travelled by players to a point where soon, if the downward trend continues, the only time we will see him will be in set-piece press conferences which he cannot avoid.

Why this should be is a bit of a mystery but the impact is to project a tetchy man, hyper-senstive to criticism.

A decent enough theory emerged in Chisinau from a well-respected member of Ireland's football family who argued that O'Neill's sensitivity to criticism is rooted in the fact that Ol Big 'Ead (Clough) used the stick on him far more often than the carrot.

It is an aspect of O'Neill's life at Forest which he obviously did not enjoy but he appears to have rationalised the experience as a part of Clough's method, a manifestation of his legendary ability to choose the right psychological approach to spark each player.

Keane has told the tale of how Clough punched him in the stomach once as part of his football education and has made something of a joke out of what was a serious enough thing.

But we also know that Clough used to kneel down and untie Keane's boots after a game to honour the Corkman's unbelievable investment of energy in every game.

He never untied O'Neill's boots or if he did, we've never heard about it.

We know from Paul Kimmage's pre-France interview that after switching from playing to managing, O'Neill stored up letters from angry fans who wanted him sacked .

It may well be that O'Neill has always bridled at criticism and he shares that trait with Keane.

But he loves to talk and these days, Keane is at his most comfortable mediawise sitting with newsprint reporters he has been lumbered with for most of his career.

Keane also enjoys television and rarely disappoints those interviewing him or employing him to speak. He barks but he smiles a lot too and plays the game. His persona goes before him and he sits in studios on his own terms.

O'Neill takes every word and hoses it down for hidden meaning, always seems on the defensive, always finding a trick in a question when often, it's just a question.

O'Neill takes every word and hoses it down for hidden meaning

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