Kenny’s 2020 vision
Manager had to leave after string of bad results
HOW O’NEILL SHOT DOWN IDEA OF LANDING IRELAND ROLE
IT felt like Martin O’neill was playing hard to get when the FAI first approached him about the Ireland job in 2013.
It might have looked like an act to land the best possible financial package – but the truth is I believe he actually didn’t want the gig at that time.
O’neill badly wanted to manage another Premiership club instead.
I know this because it was actually my old friend Jimmy Magee who first took it upon himself to sound out O’neill’s interest in the job – and, to both our astonishment, he initially shot down the idea.
This is how it happened. Shortly before Giovanni Trapattoni was given his marching orders, Jimmy and I were enjoying lunch in the salubrious surroundings of the Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club in Dublin.
At the time, I had just co-written with Jimmy his best-selling memoir Memory Man and we were working on our second book together, Different Class.
Jimmy always saw the glass as half full and remained upbeat even when the chips were down.
But on this particular day he was deflated about Ireland’s recent run of “abysmal performances”.
“It’s obvious Trapattoni should be sacked or fall on his own sword. I would opt for Martin O’neill, who also happens to be from Derry,” Jimmy told me.
“He is very much one of us, and he would be terrific. He did a fantastic job at Celtic and Leicester.
“I doubt the FAI have ever been in touch with Martin but I would say he would love to do it.”
Right there and then, Jimmy made up his mind to call O’neill.
After our slap-up meal, we found a quiet corner in the club for Jimmy to phone him.
It was so silent you could hear a pin drop, which meant I could easily eavesdrop on their entire conversation.
Never one for beating around the bush, Jimmy got straight down to brass tacks. “Martin, would you be interested in managing Ireland?” Jimmy asked.
It was a conversation between friends, so there was absolutely no reason for O’neill to be coy.
But Jimmy was left flabbergasted when O’neill said he would prefer a job with a Premiership club.
O’neill made it clear he was itching to get back into management. He was unemployed at the time, having been sacked by Sunderland earlier that year.
Nevertheless, he appeared to be unenthusiastic about the Ireland job.
Perhaps O’neill thought he could have earned more in the Premiership. But Trap was earning a staggering €1.5million from the FAI – even after taking a cut.
Was that not good enough for a part-time job? Or perhaps O’neill felt he had unfinished business in the English league and thought the opportunity to manage Ireland would come again.
Either way, O’neill didn’t appear to see being Ireland manager as his dream job. He would rather watch his team struggle on a cold winter’s night against Stoke City, as the famous saying goes. Such reluctance would’ve been understandable if O’neill was holding out for a top job at an elite club with a €7million pay packet. But even he knew in his heart the likes of Manchester United or Liverpool were never going to be beating down his door. At best, O’neill was hoping for a mid-table team. At worst, a bottom side in a dogfight to avoid relegation.
How could this appear more attractive than managing your country? In the end, no English club did offer him a job and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, I don’t think you can blame me for being sceptical when O’neill finally took the Ireland job. There’s no doubt he would have been flooded with job offers if Ireland had
O’neill got us to the last European Championship – but on a wing and a prayer thanks to some flukey results
performed consistently well – but they never did. To give him his dues, O’neill got us to the last European Championship – but on a wing and a prayer thanks to some flukey results. But getting beaten 5-1 by Denmark was unacceptable.
It was almost as bad as when Steve Staunton oversaw a 5-2 defeat to minnows Cyprus in 2007.
I wish him every success, but I don’t envisage too many Premiership clubs will be queuing up now for his services.
FRIEND Late broadcaster Magee was close to O’neill