Martin O’Neill slams costly suspension for two yellow cards
Ireland go into the next game against Austria with eight players a booking away from a ban
Wales’ Gareth Bale pleads with referee Nicola Rizzoli during the clash against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Livepic/Reuters
Martin O’Neill has said he believes the game between the Republic of Ireland and Wales was well refereed but that the practice of suspending players after they have received just two yellow cards is “nonsense”.
The absence of key figures at different times adds an element of lottery to the qualifying process, suggests O’Neill.
Ireland have, on the face of it, done well on the suspension front in the most recent round of games.
Yellow cards for Gareth Bale, Stoke striker Marko Arnautovic and Leipzig midfielder Stefan Illsanker (both Austria) mean they will all miss their respective next game in June.
But having already lost Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady at different points over the first half of the campaign, Ireland go into the fixture against Austria with eight players, including several regular starters, a booking away from a ban.
“It’s swings and roundabouts,” says the manager who is entitled to wonder whether Wales heading to Belgrade without their star player is necessarily completely good news for Ireland.
In any case, O’Neill points out, with the likes of Stephen Ward, Jonathan Walters and Glenn Whelan amongst the Irish on a card, he might be the one suffering in September.
“I think in the last tournament, [qualifying for] the Euros, it was three bookings. I think it’s ridiculous that you can pick up a suspension for two bookings. We could go into a very important game, it might not be Austria, it might be the next match against Georgia or maybe Serbia with four players suspended because of the way it falls.
“It’s almost an impossibility to get through [the campaign without a suspension] if you are combative at all either as a centre half, midfield player or even a forward is picking up things when they come in late for a challenge. My own view is that two yellow cards for a series of 10 games is nonsense.”
Part of the problem, he suggests, is “trigger happy” referees although he adds that having watched Friday night’s game back again, he does not believe that the Italian match official Nicola Rizzoli went too far the other way by letting so much go early on.
Rizzoli is vastly experienced. He oversaw the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil and one of the two Euro2016 semi-finals in France last summer.
He had officiated in Ireland games on a number of occasions previously including the 6-1 home defeat by Germany and the loss to France in Lyon last year.
But he came in for particular criticism on Friday when his apparent determination to let play flow and reluctance to book players led, some have suggested, to an escalation in the ferocity of the challenges being put in until, ultimately, Neil Taylor’s on Seamus Coleman caused the Everton full-back a serious injury.
“I’m sorry but I don’t agree with that,” says O’Neill.
“I’ve seen the game back and it has only confirmed my view; Gareth Bale could have got a red card, that’s true. The referee saw the incident and only chose a yellow card. But the referee is nothing to do with Seamus’s tackle.
“If you want my view, I thought the referee actually did fine in the game. He let certain things go which, I’ve got to tell you, in the overall scheme of football now, is no bad thing.
“We have been used to watching matches where referees stop a game, book players; three or four bookings within the first 10 minutes. If it’s a proper booking offence, absolutely, doesn’t matter whether it’s the first minute, sixth minute or the last minute of the game.
“But I don’t agree with the point that because he allowed some things to go on that made those challenges, that that forced people to make challenges they shouldn’t have.”
O’Neill confirmed, meanwhile, that he will, out of courtesy, seek to make contact with Ronald Koeman with regard to Séamus Coleman but the northerner insisted that he and the Irish coaching staff had been entirely within their rights to try to get James McCarthy fit for the game on Friday.
“If you look at the times that he’s missed matches, either by not being picked or picking up a niggling injury, that’s something the club and James will have to look at because we’re not in control of him,” said O’Neill.
“We only have him these days and we’re guided by James, and our staff. The reason it seems to be is more pronounced is because of the historical things between this country and Everton.”