O’Neill fumes over suggestion he has been lucky on play-off route
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.
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Manchester United’s Anthony Martial celebrates scoring the winning goal against Tottenham at Old Trafford yesterday. See Page 5. Photo: Jason Cairnduff