O’Neill fumes over sug­ges­tion he has been lucky on play-off route

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN FAL­LON

IRE­LAND man­ager Martin O’Neill has is­sued a stri­dent re­buke of sug­ges­tions he’s been lucky in the World Cup cam­paign, dis­miss­ing the accusation as “com­plete and ut­ter bol­locks”. Ire­land set up a play-off for a place in Rus­sia by beat­ing a Wales side with­out their in­jured tal­is­man Gareth Bale and nar­rowly avoid­ing miss­ing out as the worst-placed run­ner-up across the nine groups. After Ire­land dodged big guns Italy and Croa­tia in the play-off draw to get the low­est-ranked of the seeded na­tions, Den­mark, for­mer Ire­land mid­fielder Keith An­drews cited O’Neill’s run of for­tune as rea­son for the like­li­hood of the team qual­i­fy­ing for their first World Cup since 2002.

“At the mo­ment, if Martin fell in muck, he’d still smell of Old Spice,” said An­drews, now work­ing as a pun­dit.

For­mer Ire­land man­ager Brian Kerr also re­cently chipped in, claim­ing the breaks en­joyed by O’Neill of late could con­tinue for the play-off. “Chris­tian Erik­sen is Den­mark’s key man but, with Martin’s luck, he might miss the play­off,” said Kerr.

O’Neill, how­ever, pro­vided an an­gry re­tort last week, in­di­cat­ing there shouldn’t be any de­bate over him de­serv­ing the con­tract re­newal granted by the FAI ahead of the Wales fix­ture when Ire­land’s fate was still in the bal­ance.

“I like Keith but, hon­estly, that is com­plete and ut­ter bol­locks,” said the Der­ry­man. “Com­ing from peo­ple within the game, I’m sorry but I don’t take that. I re­mem­ber the golfer, Gary Player, once say­ing that the harder he prac­tised, the luck­ier he got. He won nine Ma­jor ti­tles and it re­ally sums it up.

“I work for these things. If some­one thinks I just go and throw some wa­ter around my face and come into camp, well I’m ac­tu­ally very good at my job. I re­ally am.

“Be­lieve it or not, I’m bet­ter than think­ing that I shouldn’t get a con­tract here. It’s not as if Ire­land qual­ify for hun­dreds of com­pe­ti­tions. They’ve been in this in­dus­try for some num­ber of years and we don’t qual­ify all the time.

“I think it’s for­got­ten that I got the team through to the Eu­ros last year. Out­side of get­ting well beaten by Bel­gium — no ma­jor sur­prise there — we were bril­liant against both Swe­den and Italy. Who knows what would have hap­pened against France if we’d had an­other three days to pre­pare? We might have ended up in the fi­nal.”

On the topic of Wales be­ing de­prived of their Real Madrid star for the must­win game in Cardiff, O’Neill was swift to high­light Ire­land’s in­jury prob­lems for the score­less draw in the home fix­ture last March.

“Miss­ing Bale was a bad blow for Wales but he played in Dublin and didn’t score against our weak­ened team,” he said. “Our full-strength team would have beaten Wales that night. We also lost Sea­mus Cole­man, our world-class full-back, from the 62nd minute.

“You can’t ac­tu­ally fluke these things. If some non-de­script snooker player was up against Ronnie O’Sul­li­van, he might get a break of 70 or 80 and ac­tu­ally beat him. But Ronnie O’Sul­li­van is not go­ing to get beaten over a num­ber of frames be­cause he’s far, far bet­ter.

“I won com­pe­ti­tions for Le­ices­ter, some of their great­est achieve­ments ever, and that was no fluke.” ‘Ire­land will put up the green wall, we have to break it down.’ Jan Molby talks to Colin Young, Page 7

Manch­ester United’s An­thony Mar­tial cel­e­brates scor­ing the win­ning goal against Tot­ten­ham at Old Traf­ford yes­ter­day. See Page 5. Photo: Ja­son Cairnduff

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