Not every day easy, not every day nice
Enjoy the trip lads, here’s looking forward to seeing you guide us on an epic journey
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill with assistant Roy Keane during last night’s training session at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
A pal of mine was at a sports conference not so long ago sitting beside a predecessor of Martin O’Neill at both Celtic and Aston Villa.
Dr Jozef Vengloš, a Slovakian gentleman with a respectable coaching career in the former Czechoslovakia, was asked about his time in Glasgow.
Jozef replied: “Not every day easy, not every day nice.”
Thinking about O’Neill’s maiden voyage with the Republic this week brought me back to February 12th, 2003, up in Hampden Park.
The contrast in preparation couldn’t be more stark, although there is a link.
Having had a very positive meeting with Roy several days before the Scotland game, I could see a pathway for his return to the Irish squad.
But Alex Ferguson and the medical staff at Manchester United had other ideas due to his troublesome hip. They didn’t believe he could stay injury-free while juggling club and international football.
Ferguson made that clear in a somewhat heated call to me but we ended the conversation close to a compromise.
The night before the Scotland game, while engrossed in training, I got the nod from John Fallon that something serious was developing.
Word came from Roy, via his agent Michael Kennedy to Tommy Gorman, behind a PSNI van in Belfast on the Six One News, that Keane would not be returning to the international set-up.
It was a huge blow to my plans of rescuing qualification for Portugal the following summer after defeats to Switzerland and Russia.
That said, it didn’t prevent me enjoying the proudest night of my life 24 hours later. Standing on the touchline with Amhrán na bhFiann being belted out by a decent Irish crowd away to my left was exhilarating and unforgettable.
After 40 years in football it was an emotional night for me and everyone who helped me along the way – friends, foes and family. (I knew in my heart the return of Keane was not a lost cause. The exile duly ended with a one-nil win over Romania. The rest is carved in stone.)
O’Neill and Keane have had the most special nights a player or manager can experience in football but tonight will rank close enough to those that linger long in the memory.
To beat Latvia
Most of all, they will want to beat Latvia, who only achieved eight points from a possible 30 in what looked the weakest qualifier group.
Tuesday in Poznan will give Martin a sterner examination and be of more value as he attempts to sift through the strengths and weaknesses of his squad.
All week people have been entertained by the mostly cheery demeanour of our new dream team.
But that’s a useful mask. The intensity and desire both men will bring to these friendlies will howl through the squad like electricity.