Thursday 18 July 2019

O'Neill deal will paper over cracks

FAI confirm that O'Neill, after 3-month delay, has signed

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has signed a new two-year deal with the FAI. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has signed a new two-year deal with the FAI. Photo: Sportsfile

It took 110 days for it to happen, and then just 16 words to make it official.

But last night, with a message sent on social media from the bosom of the FAI delegation in Switzerland, the deal was done: Martin O'Neill had signed his two-year contract extension to stay on as manager of the Republic of Ireland team.

Cynics might wonder why it took so long to get over the line, ever since the FAI announced way back in October that they wanted the Derry native to hang around as boss of the national side and he wanted to stay in the job.

When signing one of the most important pieces of paper in the Cold War, the 1980 agreement between the Solidarity trade union and Poland's communist government, Lech Walesa used a huge garish novelty pen with a picture of the Pope on it, not the only pen he could find but one he could use to make a point as making his mark on paper.

Maybe they have special pens in the expensive hotels of Lausanne as it took until last night, and the arrival of that FAI delegation containing O'Neill and Roy Keane, to get the deal signed. No details emerged of what got them over the line, nor was there any further explanation from O'Neill as to why it took so long (over three months) from the announcement of that new contract to the signing.

Roy Keane. Photo: Getty Images
Roy Keane. Photo: Getty Images

As John Delaney said, repeatedly, at a sponsor's event in Dublin last week, Martin will tell all when he speaks to the media today.

The silence from the 65-year-old has been deafening. In the torrid weeks and months since Denmark tore Ireland apart in Dublin, the only time that O'Neill has spoken to the Irish public has been a bizarre, rushed and poor-quality video issued by the FAI's twitter account last Tuesday night, all 76 seconds of it.

He has not spoken a single word to the Irish media, or by extension the public, since the loss to Denmark.

Perhaps Ireland supporters don't care if the Irish soccer press are denied cosy chats with the boss, but the public do deserve to hear from the manager of the national team.

After all, O'Neill claims credit for bums on seats. "I think (FAI) season tickets have gone from 4,000 to 16,000 so I think there is some evidence we are doing ok," he said before the October clash with Moldova.

O'Neill's treatment of the media has been at times downright rude, such as his ungracious appearance at the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland dinner in Dublin two weeks ago, though he has seemingly told confidants that he knows he needs to "build bridges" with those who cover the game here.

But fans also have to be won over. Basing assumptions on Twitter activity is dangerous and of little value (just 10% of the population in Ireland use twitter on a daily basis).

Yet the reaction on that Twitter platform to the FAI's confirmation of the deal signing was not complimentary, most of it unprintable, in fact. Supporters have endured pain since the 5-1 loss and they need to hear clarity today from O'Neill, on what happened with the Stoke job and his plans for the future.

Today's draw for the Nations League will at least give fans, denied a summer in Russia, something to aim for in 2018.

We have explained how the new tournament works but, in short, Ireland fans can this year look forward to four games in the Nations League, home and away against two rivals.

A dream draw today would see us play Austria or Wales from one pot and Northern Ireland or Czech Republic from the other pot.

Signing the contract was harder than it should have been. The next steps will be even harder.

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