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Thursday 14 December 2017

Martin O'Neill happy to continue as Republic manager ... for now

Sean Dillon of Dundee United shakes hands with Donervorn Daniels of Aberdeen

Republic of Ireland Manager Martin ONeill during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland Manager Martin ONeill during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium

THERE was a moment during Martin O’Neill’s visit to the Aviva for a sponsors’ announcement when Nottingham Forest were simultaneously managerless and bookmakers boards all over the country posted some odds.

It was short-lived. They barely had Pearce out the door when Dougie Freedman was announced as the new manager at the City Ground but it was interesting to see how the bookmakers responded and the names they promoted.

Well down the list was Roy Keane, a strong candidate for the job before Pearce was announced back in July last year but sitting in the third spot was none other than Martin O’Neill, Republic of Ireland manager.

On BBC radio a few weeks back, O’Neill was pressed hard on his current sentiment towards club management and his response left some with the impression that the man is pining for a day to day job.

It would be odd if he didn’t feel some pull towards the arena he grew up in and almost certainly left behind with unfulfilled ambitions. It would be peculiar if he didn’t find the truncated rhythm of international management difficult to adjust to.

That said, O’Neill has had a couple of long spells when he didn’t work at all for one reason or another so he knows what it is like to have almost zero involvement in the game he is clearly besotted by.

Right now, O’Neill is committed to Ireland and while there is a chance of Euro 2016 qualification, there will be no question of him leaving for a club job. If an emerging Ireland team doesn’t make the cut, all bets are off.

That is the normal progress of a manager’s career. Failure in one job usually leads to the sack and he is not immune to that fundamental rule of football.

The only issue, then, is what O’Neill would do if Ireland do qualify? Would the prospect of leading a group of players to Russia for the 2018 World Cup finals be enough to satisfy his need to mainline football on a daily basis? When you put it like that, it’s a foolish question. Who knows what fate has in store for O’Neill and Ireland in the next nine or ten months? The team could blossom and mow down opponents all the way to France and beyond.  Or not.

O’Neill went to some lengths to explain his thinking on this. He has no intention of leaving himself as a hostage to fortune by predicting ten years in the job. He is a profoundly careful man when it comes to his words and how he phrases them. Nobody can complain about that.

The speed stories move in our digital world is often breath-taking and never has it been wiser to choose everything for public consumption with precision.

He does have a dilemma though. Right now, he is the manager of an international team performing quite well and with a major result in the bag from world champions Germany, imminently employable by any ambitious Premier League club chairman.

If his status suffered a bit of a mauling after Sunderland, it is fully restored now and if he does hanker after one more Premier League job, he will get opportunities.

But fashions move fast in football and today’s hot manager is tomorrow’s broken dream. If he signs on for more years with Ireland, the Premier League might pass him by.

For now, he continues to watch football matches across England and with Keane, subjects Irish players to forensic scrutiny. Never mind all the headlines and controversies, O’Neill is very happy with his assistant.

It’s a bit of a no brainer and O’Neill was open enough to admit that he gathers a great collateral benefit from the focus on his bearded sidekick.

“If it wasn’t Roy. It would be something else,” he said acknowledging the fact that the Corkman is a kind of publicity meat shield.

The dynamic between the duo ebbs and flows. Early last summer, Keane was the man with most to smile about. He had morphed from Mr Angry into the cuddly assistant boss enjoying time around footballers again after a televisual sabbatical.

VACANT

Every vacant job was attached to his name and Celtic emerged as a genuine option. Even when he opted for a double-jobbing arrangement at Villa Park, he looked like a man on the way up again with every reason to be optimistic about his chances of resuming a career in club management.

One book and a lot of self-inflicted reputational damage later and Keane is once again behaving like a cornered man generating images of irrationality.

Keane knows by now how his actions are viewed and an everyday shouting match with a taxi driver, something which happens most people at least once a year, is snapped up by bored website editors looking for something juicy.

He chooses to live his life in the public eye and he’s made quite a bit of money from it.

He played relentlessly to the caricature of himself he hates so much when he was promoting his book, a book he did not have to do.

All the while, O’Neill watches from the sideline while his assistant soaks up attention which might be aimed at him which easily explains why he is so sanguine about each explosive media spike Keane creates.

It allows O’Neill to concentrate fully on the job at hand and while his high profile No. 2 serves that purpose and does the work he is paid to do, the show will roll on unless it overwhelms Keane and he steps down himself.

Could that happen?

Absolutely!

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