Wednesday 16 January 2019

O'Neill's media spat overblown

Crucial three points banked in Tbilisi are all that matters

IT hasn't taken long. Already, the whiff of false controversy is in the air and an old narrative has been reasserted. Maybe we should all grow up.

Ireland went to Georgia and came home with three points. Bottom line. It was a great win, done at the death and at a time when we expect to see green shirts slumped across the pitch because of a sucker-punch goal.

An enigma, long considered something of a liability if we're brutally honest, hit the bullseye twice and suddenly, Aiden McGeady is the best boy in the class.

An Ireland manager has a tetchy moment with Tony O'Donoghue after the game and suddenly it's Italia '90, bouncing pencils and self-promotion.

It is hilarious to see O'Neill criticised for being prickly. It is the man's nature. When has he not been prickly? His media work has been laced with prickles. And who cares if he is?

As one of the journalists covering the gig, I'm deeply flattered that Eamon Dunphy should have such caring thoughts about my well-being but I reckon I can look after myself, thanks very much.

So can Tony O'Donoghue. He has been on the Ireland gig for a long time now and knows the form. He has the worst job of any journalist covering a football match because he has to ask the hard questions immediately after the game when emotions are still raw if things go wrong. Or even if they go right.

Tony has fenced with managers going back through the years. It's part of the job and if he was thin-skinned, it wouldn't be a great career choice.

O'Neill resents the amount of media work he has to do. Roy Keane doles out his words like commandments. The players resent the amount of media work they have to do. Same as it ever was but it's all part of the job and we muddle along.

Yesterday, O'Neill was reflective and reasonably honest about what we witnessed in Tbilisi.

"It's three points away from home. It's important for us. As I mentioned, I think we can improve. There were times when we were trying to force it in the last 15 minutes, when there was a bit of untidiness in some of our crossing at the end, in that particular spell.

"We could have done better with the (Georgia's) goal. It may or may not have got a deflection but I think we could have dealt with it better in the build-up. There were one or two moments, naturally, in a game away from home that you would expect to have to deal with. But it's three points away from home and it gives us a boost of confidence."

O'Neill's team selection caught everyone by surprise and he explained the thought process which led him to pick Stephen Quinn instead of Wes Hoolahan.

"I think there are a number of things really, the training that we were doing - some players impressed me in training and then you get to know the players at competitive level. At this stage, I thought the team that I put out with Whelan would allow James McCarthy and Quinn to get forward.

"The whole idea of our formation was number one, we were playing away from home but I still felt we were still capable of scoring a goal. The idea was to get to him (Robbie Keane) and give him a little bit of help a wee bit more quickly. That was the idea with Glenn being in the middle and the other two going forward as often as they could. At times it looked as if we didn't get decent movement. I must have a look at it.

"Stephen Quinn has shown a good old character. Maybe he felt his days might be numbered at Hull. He has done fine. I saw him play against Stoke. Hull had a man sent off. He had a lot of work to do in that game. He did it willingly and I just thought He'd give us that bit of balance, knowing that Stephen Ward hadn't played that much football.

"We were carrying a lot of players for this particular game and that was also a concern of mine, a lot of players hadn't played enough competitive football and I felt it might have shown."

And his thoughts on man of the moment Aiden McGeady?

"You see the sort of talent he possesses. I know I gave him his debut for Celtic. He was excellent. He was mesmerising in a Champions League game against AC Milan and you'd have thought things were going to kick on.

"I think he definitely needs managers to believe in him. I think he can obviously kick on from there.

"I'm sure Roberto Martinez would feel the same about him. It's just realising that talent he has possessed in abundance since he was a kid.

"He'll be a danger and sometimes he'll lose it and sometimes he'll lose it in positions, like the first two touches he had in the game, he's played it square and the ball has been lost but he is a rare talent. He has terrific feet."

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