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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

A joke and a smile as O’Neill opens Ireland reign on a bright note

Ireland boss insists he “never lost the energy, never lost the enthusiasm” on his first day at the office.

Say cheese! O'Neill and Delaney in the Gibson Hotel yesterday.
Say cheese! O'Neill and Delaney in the Gibson Hotel yesterday.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

MARTIN O’NEILL’S ACHIEVEMENTS will be judged at another time in another place but if he can translate the positivity of yesterday’s press conference into results, he has nothing to fear.

Nothing is ever won or lost in these opening meet-and-greets which, truth be told, are often bland affairs.

But O’Neill passed his first test with flying colours and ticked all of the appropriate boxes in 25 minutes at the Gibson Hotel.

While Roy Keane spent his afternoon watching Ciaran Clark at Villa Park, his boss was totally at ease in Dublin, testing his audience with his dry wit.

“Someone asked me the other day “why Roy?” and I’ve asked myself that question a number of times,” O’Neill said at the first mention of his assistant’s name, although he was forced to flag the obvious joke when the laughs never came.

Unsurprisingly, the other half of Ireland’s management dream team was discussed more than once.

“I’m not there to change Roy Keane,” he stressed. “Not at all. I want Roy Keane essentially the way he is.”

But this was O’Neill’s show and he seized the opportunity to get his tenure off on the right foot.

John O’Shea, James McClean and Keiren Westwood were all name-checked from the Sunderland days as he stressed his familiarity with Irish football’s recent history and the players he now has on call.

Questions about his plans to scouting domestic talent in the League of Ireland and underage development were also met with short, crowd-pleasing nods.

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INPHO/James Crombie

“Essentially my job here is to try to qualify for the Euros in 2016,” he explained. “That’s probably what I will be judged on but that does not mean that I shouldn’t play a greater role in hopefully the development of Irish football if I can.”

His contract will run until the end of the European Championship campaign, whenever that is. If he steers Ireland to France in the summer of 2016, the FAI have already made it clear that they will offer an extension.

That job begins immediately with the friendly double-header against Latvia and Poland. One of O’Neill’s first acts was to cancel Monday’s training session though there was no indication what he might have planned in its place.

The decisions on tactics and personnel will have to wait but the door is open for the recently retired and the not-so-recently exiled to stake a claim if they so wish. For now at least, everything is on the table.

After weeks of speculation that he was holding out for a Premier League job, O’Neill was quick to clarify that there is no clause in his contract that would allow him to walk away if a club comes knocking.

He’s in this for the long haul although the change in pace and routine is expected to be a challenge.

“That is the thing that I probably was pondering over most. Not the fact that it was the Republic of Ireland, quite the opposite, but really it was the idea of stepping in from day-to-day management which I have done for 20-odd years into managing an international team where the get-togethers are certainly at a condensed length of a time.

“My concern of course is the very obvious one that you don’t work with players on a day-to-day basis.

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INPHO/James Crombie

“The other one is that sometimes if you lose a football match at least at club level you think that you have the opportunity the following week to put it right. I’m not so sure what I’ll be like if you have three months to think about it.

“All of those things were considerations and then the more I did think about it and thought of the great record here of very successful international managers going back to Jack Charlton starting the whole proceedings, then you had Mick McCarthy and Trapattoni, all very successful, and other managers who maybe just didn’t have the luck to come through.

When I thought about it, this opportunity might not have been afforded to me again so that was a consideration and I’m delighted to be here.

O’Neill bristled ever so slightly when his final days at Sunderland were mentioned but seven months later, he wanted to make it clear that he’s ready to meet his new task head on.

“I never lost the energy, never lost the enthusiasm. It was always there. That’s what keeps me going.”

That much was evident as he offered a smile and a wave for the cameras as he finished up to a round of applause. Not a bad first day at the office.

‘I’m not there to change Roy’ — the dynamics of the O’Neill/Keane odd couple

6 interesting snippets from today’s Martin O’Neill press conference

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