O’Neill stays calm
THIS time, the Keane line was a joke. Roy Keane for Tanaiste, Martin? On a nice day in Malahide, anything seemed possible.
Martin O’Neill is constantly tickled and increasingly exasperated by the preoccupation with every tiny morsel of gossip linking Keane with all kinds of things and the idea that he is in the running to replace Eamon Gilmore was both funny and scary.
Imagine if it was true. Imagine poor Vincent Browne, pinned to the wall of his TV3 studio by the new Labour leader. “You call that a question Vincent? That’s not a question.”
There is, of course, a serious subtext to the constant patter of questions about Keane’s future and O’Neill has addressed that to some extent by the appointment of Steve Walford and Steve Guppy as general coaches and helpers out.
“I think it’s relatively straightforward. I’ve worked with Steve (Walford), I know what Steve can do. He’s come in at short notice in the sense that I didn’t give him a great deal of time to prepare. I said to him sometime earlier about maybe doing a little bit of work in the summertime.
“Steve has had some offers to go and coach elsewhere. I’ve worked with him for a long time. These roles would be part-time roles so I would really have to look at those things.
“Stevie Guppy also has had an offer himself to go on a full-time basis. I think we kind of enjoy working with each other. But we’ll see. I can’t promise anything. Nor can I promise to keep people who can have a full-time job elsewhere.”
It’s an odd situation. The appointment of a back-room team is usually a straightforward operation. Manager picks people he can trust and off they go.
But you have to wonder whether O’Neill is beginning to think he might need a provisional ball or two against the moment, now more likely than not, when Keane tells him he’s off to FC Somewhere and the job starts now.
Walford and Guppy are seasoned men and well-respected. It is no surprise that they have other offers pending but from what O’Neill said, he cannot give them a full-time post.
Presumably, if Keane did change course in the middle of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, one or both would be co-opted, if they haven’t found a better deal by then. Right now, with Keane and Seamus McDonagh beside him, it’s hard to justify two more full-time positions.
These things are important even if they only seem like housekeeping. The day-to-day group dynamic is set by the staff and the players.
Good back-room people have a crucial role as mediators between players. Young lads need an outlet for insecurities and often as not, they will find it in the kit room or on the shoulder of a coach.
So far, it is has been notable how well the players have responded to O’Neill and Keane.
There is a sense of purpose about the group and it can only help to have two more experienced men around to help direct it.
“The players have been terrific here. You give them a little bit of leeway. They are professional players. Some of them have families living not too far from here,” said O’Neill.
“We’ve done the training, it’s the end of the season and I think they enjoy a little bit of freedom that they get. And none of them at this minute, famous last words these will be, but none of them have abused it. They’ve been absolutely fine.
“Absolutely. I know that if you’re talking to the players, they’ve actually enjoyed it. Days like this here are absolutely terrific. There have been no complaints.
“What I’ve tried to do is allow them a little time. The Stokes lad asked early for a little time with his family. I’d no problem with that.”
O’Neill had to do some morale lifting with the Derby County Irish contingent who arrived yesterday and his medicine for bruised hearts was to put them to work.
“We had a little bit of a chat with them. Obviously, they are very disappointed of course with the outcome and how they have to start again next season having finished loads of points clear of other teams, but they have to start afresh again.
“But it happens to people, and Richard (Keogh) himself is particularly disappointed, of course, because his mistake at the end led to the goal but I think if Derby look at it they should have cleared the ball at least three times before that.
“So it’ll be disappointing for them because they were in a great position to go on and win the game and they didn’t do so.
“So they start back again next year. I suppose if they keep the squad together they must give themselves a really good chance.
“As far as we’re concerned here, a day like today - beautiful weather, gorgeous day - I think that might help all three out of themselves a little bit,” said O’Neill.