Me­di­as­tarved­o­fan­swer­sasO’Neil­leatsin­peace

Ire­land man­ager avoids top ta­ble at Soc­cer Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land ban­quet

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Em­met Malone Soc­cer Cor­re­spon­dent

To­wards the end of Shake­speare’s Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus, the Ro­man gen­eral of the ti­tle tells Goth queen Tamora that the pie she had just eaten con­tained the re­mains of her kids and sev­eral of the lead­ing char­ac­ters then pro­ceed to kill each other.

Okay, Martin O’Neill’s at­ten­dance at the an­nual Soc­cer Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land ban­quet was never go­ing to pro­duce quite so many ac­tual ca­su­al­ties but to judge by the Repub­lic of Ire­land man­ager’s ar­rival at the event, the at­mos­phere had the po­ten­tial to be just as grim by the end of the evening.

The man­ager only at­tended af­ter an ap­par­ent change of plans but the FAI said in ad­vance that he would just be eat­ing, not talk­ing. The na­ture of the or­gan­is­ers’ line of work meant that it was never go­ing to be left quite as eas­ily at that, but as he ar­rived O’Neill left lit­tle room for doubt re­gard­ing his de­ter­mi­na­tion not to en­gage with his hosts; the 65-year-old did not break stride or ac­knowl­edge in any way re­quests that he stop and an­swer a ques­tion or two about the week that’s been in it.

Hastily ar­ranged

O’Neill was joined on the night by Roy Keane and the rest of his back­room staff, and rather than sit at the top ta­ble, as had been the norm when they at­tended in re­cent years, the group was ac­com­mo­dated at one hastily ar­ranged for the FAI.

That just might have been to spare ev­ery­one the awk­ward­ness of the Derry man and the Soc­cer Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land com­mit­tee mem­ber who had writ­ten in one of yes­ter­day’s pa­pers that he should not let the door clat­ter him on the way out hav­ing sit through a four-course din­ner to­gether, as would have been the case had the orig­i­nal seat­ing plans been ad­hered to. It might have been, but we may never know.

That may not be the only griev­ance the man­ager is nurs­ing af­ter the cov­er­age of this week’s at­tempt by Stoke City to ap­point a suc­ces­sor to Mark Hughes, but then few of the soc­cer re­porters in the room were all that im­pressed ei­ther with the lack of a state­ment from ei­ther O’Neill or his ap­par­ently help­less em­ploy­ers over the pre­vi­ous five days, never mind his re­fusal to ad­dress the is­sues that have arisen this week in even the briefest ex­change as he ar­rived at the Con­rad Ho­tel.

There had been some idle spec­u­la­tion as the re­porters waited for him to ar­rive that the FAI would sud­denly spring a press re­lease re­veal­ing that he had fi­nally signed the con­tract he him­self re­vealed had been agreed way back in Oc­to­ber. That didn’t hap­pen, though.

De­tail

What does seem pretty clear at this stage is that O’Neill will not be Stoke City’s next man­ager. Club of­fi­cials were re­ported to be in Spain yes­ter­day nail­ing down the de­tail of their agree­ment with for­mer Wat­ford boss Quique Sánchez Flores, al­though re­ports in the club’s lo­cal pa­per, the Sen­tinel, had sug­gested early yes­ter­day that it would be the week­end be­fore an an­nounce­ment would be made.

Some in Spain raised the pos­si­bil­ity that the 52-year-old might yet take charge of Es­panyol’s league game against Ath­letico Bil­bao to­mor­row.

It seems in­creas­ingly un­likely, but if that deal some­how falls apart, then O’Neil is still os­ten­si­bly the club’s sec­ond choice, and per­haps we will get to re­live last week’s sham­bles over the course of the one to come. For now, though, the FAI sug­gests that it is busi­ness as usual.

Yeah, it sort of feels that way all right. Per­son­al­i­ty­oftheYear:JohnCaulfield(Cork City). Goal­keeper:MarkMcNulty(CorkCity). Spe­cialMerit:Ron­nie Nolan. Guest­sofHonour:TheEuro­pean­ti­tle-win­ning Un­der-18andUn­der-16Repub­li­cofIre­land team­sof1998.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTS­FILE

Repub­lic of Ire­land man­ager Martin O’Neill and Repub­lic of Ire­land women’s man­ager Colin Bell at the Soc­cer Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land Awards last night.

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