O’Neill says he will walk away if team fail to make finals in France

New manager admits failure to achieve qualification will probably mean short stay


Martin O’Neill says he will walk away from the Ireland job at the end of the European Championship qualifying campaign with no complaints if he has failed to get the team to France.

The northerner acknowledges that qualification is the job he has been hired to achieve and admits that unless there is genuine bad luck involved he will have come up short if he fails to deliver.

“I have the two years and I think that is right,” he said after having been officially unveiled at the Gibson hotel in Dublin on Saturday. “If I don’t make it, I don’t deserve to go on. I said the same to Roy,” he added with a smile: “that if I make a mess of it, he goes with me... no staying on. That is the point; unless we are really unlucky with a situation that arises like the Thierry Henry or we were genuinely unlucky in two games.

“I know there’s an expansion of teams now, it goes to 24, and I wish that could guarantee you qualification, God Almighty I would go to the Bahamas for two years then. But I think the very fact that it’s gone from 16 to 24, obviously it should help although it doesn’t guarantee a thing.”

O’Neill took the job believing that Ireland would be third or even fourth seeds and views the news that the team is actually likely to be in the second pot in Nice on February 23rd as a major bonus.

As he met the Irish media for the first time since being appointed, however, he admitted to having mixed feelings about the fact that almost half of his initial tenure will be spent waiting for the real action to begin.

“By the time that we play our first qualifying game we are nearly nine or ten months on so lots of things can happen at that stage,” he observed.

“I said earlier that part of me would want maybe some competitive games a wee bit more quickly but the upside is you get to know the squad better in that time.”

The downsides
One of the downsides is that several key players will another year older and struggling, perhaps, to stay at the top of the game. It is an issue, admits O’Neill, who cannot be remotely sure now who is likely to be in the side he selects for his opening qualifier next September.

“Robbie, as each year goes on, is getting a bit older but Richard Dunne has done remarkably well considering that probably this time last year he thought he would never play football again. He has done very well.

“But one of the things I have to genuinely consider is that little bit of luck... that when it finally comes round to it, on the day that you actually play the game, you have to have your best players available. That helps a great deal and that’s in the lap of the gods at times.

“So I don’t really know, that’s a year on and I really don’t know the position. If the first qualifying game is tomorrow then you obviously would know what your squad would be.

O’Neill had yet to speak to any of the players on Saturday and while Robbie Keane seemed likely to get a call before the squad gathers in Dublin this evening the rest are likely to have to wait until that have arrived into the camp before hearing what the new regime has in store for them. At this stage the new manager says he is not even sure whether he will continue to handle the coaching side of things himself or hire someone in and much may yet be decided on the basis of how the next 10 days pan out.

The former Celtic boss says he consulted with nobody before asking Roy Keane to be his assistant.

Keane can push on from this job to manage again in his own right, he predicted, and pressed on whether he rather liked the idea of playing a part in the remaking of the Corkman, he said: “I think you have summed it up by the fact you said it wasn’t straightforward. But then again it’s part of the fun bringing him along! I hope I’m saying that in another six month’s time.”

Asked then if he asked his new assistant to tone things down a little bit, he replied light-heartedly: “That might be top of the agenda with my next meeting with him. But I think Roy himself has grown since his time in management. He’s had a wee bit of time to reflect. I think he will feel that he might have attacked certain things a wee bit differently but then again, I don’t want Roy to lose all those things that make him endearing to you.”

Robbie Brady and Ciaran Clark are out of Martin O’Neill’s first Republic of Ireland squad. The Hull City midfielder has a groin problem while the Aston Villa defender, who Roy Keane went to watch in action on Saturday, has foot tendon injury. The squad is due to meet up in Dublin tonight and train tomorrow.