Martin O’Neill hoping to escape Fifa censure over referee criticism

Martin O’Neill has admitted that he is concerned about the outcome of Fifa’s disciplinary probe into the criticism he and James McClean made of the referee after Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Austria at the Aviva in June. But he also said that he is hoping “the news will be good”, writes Liam Mackey.

It’s understood that Fifa’s disciplinary panel met to adjudicate on the matter on Thursday but that the FAI are not expecting to be notified of their decision until early next week.

Possible sanctions range from warnings or fines to, in the worst case scenario, match bans, after O’Neill described David Fernandez Borbalan’s handling of the 1-1 draw as “poor” and McClean went further by suggesting the Spanish official had been “Austria’s 12th man”.

Martin O’Neill hoping to escape Fifa censure over referee criticism

“I think our records are reasonably good,” said O’Neill yesterday. “Of course, like anything else, if you have to answer for something or other, naturally it does become a concern. But I am hoping that the news will be good.”

O’Neill suggested that, for players in particular, there may have to be a rethink about the wisdom of doing post-match interviews when emotions are still running high.

“In terms of interview techniques and interviewing times for people — less an excuse for me — but for players to be hauled in and then you are looking for really bland answers...It’s an interesting point and you know what I am getting at. It might be something that we’d look at. If corporations and Uefa and Fifa are actually looking for something genuine from players and agree to these flash interviews, then I think that sometimes you have to take some things into consideration.”

Speaking in Kilkenny following the FAI Cup First Round draw, O’Neill suggested that a clampdown on the expression of honest opinion can only have an inhibiting effect.

“I know that you have come a distance and are expecting something half-sensible from me,” he told journalists. “Of course, it does force you into your shell at times. You start to think ‘well, what’s the point?’ But I think that’s the way things are going, is it not? There’s a view that you cannot express now what you might feel at the time.

“If you looked at something afterwards and felt, ‘you know what, I really got that wrong, hopelessly wrong,’ then I don’t mind apologising. “It’s an expression and an impression at that particular time. But, overall, I think it’s forcing people away from having an opinion.”

Looking ahead to the resumption of the World Cup qualifiers, O’Neill said he is fully aware that transfer deadline day in England, on August 31, will coincide with Ireland flying out to Tbilisi ahead of the game against Georgia on September 2.

“Very much so and I don’t think I’ll be wanting somebody to step off the plane and be thinking ‘I just want to complete this’,” he said. “But I’m sure there will be last minute things and I’m sure, for all my great intentions here, somebody will step up and say ‘oh there’s a loan on now’ or something.

So I would like to point out that (it would be good) if any business could be done earlier so we have total concentration on these games. We could have two or three in that position and, in the course of August time, I could give them a buzz and say ‘this is the itinerary, this is what’s happening, this is where we are and honestly, regardless, you have to sort this out.’

I’ll see. I’ll be really hard and strong here today in July and then I might falter on the 30th of August. But, generally speaking, the players should be aware that we have a big game coming on and it would be a definite concern.”

Martin O’Neill hoping to escape Fifa censure over referee criticism

O’Neill has been keeping in regular contact with Seamus Coleman and was happy to report that the injured skipper continues to make good progress in his recovery from a broken leg.

“If anyone is going to come back more quickly it will be him,” said the manager. But while indicating that the prospect of the player recovering in time to take any part in the remaining World Cup qualifiers would be “doubtful”, O’Neill is certain that the Everton man will available for international duty, if required, next summer.

“If we ever got to Russia? Absolutely. Us trying to get there would be the more difficult thing.”

Meanwhile, even as he reaffirmed his faith in goalkeeper Darren Randolph, O’Neill acknowledged that Joe Hart’s arrival at West Ham could see the Irish Number One move clubs in search of regular first team football.

Middlesbrough have been heavily linked with a £4.5m million (€5 million) deal for the Irishman.

O’Neill also conceded that Jeff Hendrick’s form might have been affected by the criminal court case in Dublin which ended with him being cleared of all charges just two weeks ago.

“I don’t think you want things that are hanging around you like that,” O’Neill said. “It’s good that it’s cleared now and he should get his mind totally fixed and be ready for the matches. His form in the Euros was fantastic and sometimes it takes a bit of time to recapture that. In terms of kicking on from the Euros, I think it’s been a stop-start season for him. I think he should throw the shackles off and go and play again.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner

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