James McClean and Martin O’Neill have escaped with nothing worse than a slap on the wrist from FIFA for the critical comments they made about the match referee after the 1-1 draw with Austria in the World Cup qualifier at the Aviva in June, writes Liam Mackey.
O’Neill had described the Spanish official’s performance in the game as “poor” while McClean went further in a post-match television interview by suggesting that David Fernandez Borbalan was Austria’s “12th man”.
That implicit questioning of the referee’s integrity prompted fears that the West Brom man could be in line for a ban but, yesterday, it was confirmed that, following a disciplinary investigation, FIFA had settled on issuing a reprimand to both men.
In a statement, the FAI said it “accepted FIFA's decision to issue a reprimand to both Martin O'Neill and James McClean following disciplinary proceedings.
“The ruling by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee came following a breach of Article 57 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and Article 4 of the Regulations of the 2018 FIFA World Cup for 'unsporting behaviour'.”
The Association added that it would be making no further comment on the matter.
With Ireland resuming their World Cup qualification bid with back to back games away to Georgia and at home to Serbia in September, FIFA’s decision will have come as a relief to Martin O’Neill who last week admitted that, while he was hoping for good news, he couldn’t help but be concerned about the outcome of the disciplinary probe.
He also questioned the fairness of players having to fulfil media obligations through post-match interviews which are conducted within minutes of the final whistle.
"In terms of interview techniques and interviewing times for people – there’s less excuse for me - but for players to be hauled in and then you are looking for really bland answers, It might be something that we'd look at,” he said. “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.
“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.”