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Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Martin's fate in own hands'

Kenny: 'Boss will leave when he sees fit'

Former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham has backed Martin O’Neill (pictured) to stay on as Ireland manager after the World Cup qualifying campaign
Former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham has backed Martin O’Neill (pictured) to stay on as Ireland manager after the World Cup qualifying campaign

Former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham believes that Martin O'Neill will decide his own future with the FAI and won't be forced out the exit door at the end of this campaign.

O'Neill (64) now has a three-week break before he resumes action in the World Cup qualifying campaign, the Ireland boss aware that even if he wins both remaining group games, Ireland could still miss out on a place in the play-offs for Russia 2018.

Some fans have debated whether the Derry native deserves a new deal should Ireland finish in third place in the group table but for Cunningham, there's no debate about the manager's future.

"I don't see it in terms of win-lose, we qualify or we don't," says Cunningham, capped 72 times between 1996 and2005.

"For me it's down to performance, the manager, the players, in terms of the consistency of the performance, they're the things for me.

"Qualification helps but it's not the be-all and end-all, I've never seen it in black and white terms.

"Should Martin go if we don't qualify? No. If we finish third, fourth, first or second, it doesn't matter to me. Have players improved under his tutelage? That's what I look at. If that's working well, why should we break that up.

"Ultimately it will be Martin's decision, I don't think it will be made for him," added Cunningham.

The former defender achieved qualification in just one of his five campaigns with the national team and he fears that the current crop will miss out on World Cup 2018.

"Hand on heart, I'd say no and that's not just of the back of the last few results," says the 46-year-old when asked Ireland can get to Russia," he said.

"I've probably felt that for the last few months, and that's not down to the team or the quality of performances.

"You just get a bit of a gut feeling, and generally I'm quite optimistic and upbeat.

"It's been a funny campaign, we were in a very strong position pre the Welsh game in Dublin. Results matter, but for me, it's the opposite, performances really dictate. I still felt a bit uneasy going into the Welsh game.

"We were top of the group and a lot of the talk was, 'We played the big sides away and things will take care of themselves at home.' That kind of upbeat attitude. I could understand it to a certain extent but I still felt uneasy."

But Cunningham is upbeat about the challenge in Cardiff. "Defensively, we have the advantage. Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy have been rock solid. I look at the Welsh back three, all good players but in terms of the players we have with their physical presence, we may have the advantage, but we need to get the ball up quickly, use that aerial threat," he said.

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