It was the eve of the Moldova game early last month when word dropped that both manager and FAI chief executive John Delaney were keen for him to stay on and see the side through the qualifying stages for the 2020 European Championship.
“Well, I haven’t spoken to John since we talked about that,” said O’Neill in tones that were fittingly low and sombre, given the beating his side had just taken.
“I’ll speak to John, I’m sure. I thought there was an agreement but I will speak to him.
“I have to have a real think about it,” he added.
“We fought tooth and nail to get in this position. This wasn’t the first game of a new campaign, it was a play-off match and we haven’t been able to do it. I have to commend the players on getting this far.”
The reference to ‘having a real think about it’ was picked up with interest last night, with the inevitable speculation following as to whether it meant his staying on was less than certain. The more mundane conclusion is that O’Neill has yet to look that far ahead.
That will come today and in the days to follow.
And he will have plenty more to contemplate besides.
Among the main talking points late last night was his decision to withdraw David Meyler and Harry Arter, his two holding midfielders, at half-time and replace them with Aidan McGeady and Wes Hoolahan.
From ultra-conservative to all or nothing, it was a radical departure prompted by the bind in which Ireland found themselves due to what he termed two sloppy first-half goals. Yet he accepted that the switches may have been more of a hindrance than a help.
“I can’t disagree with that. We needed to try to get some goals. We needed a little bit of width.
What happens of course, in terms of physical strength, we lose that a little bit but we needed to try to get some goals. It wasn’t to be and Denmark made us pay.”
The Irish boss had clearly taken exception earlier when asked by RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue if the result had been a humiliation.
“I would say we were well beaten,” O’Neill stated baldly.
“It will not be very hard to come back from this. We are capable of coming back. We have been beaten in a play-off. We have actually beaten Germany here not so long ago but we have been well beaten tonight. In the end, we have lost a play-off game to try and take us to the World Cup.
“This is big, big football. Remarkably we came back to draw 2-2 with Serbia and they went on to win the group. This is tough. We find it tough as we are usually playing against sides of superior quality.”
That element of annoyance was all but absent in his subsequent press conference but there was a death stare for the journalist who dared echo Keith Andrews’ theory last month when suggesting that maybe his ‘luck’ had simply run out.
“That is simply not true,” he countered. “I don’t know many trophies I won as a player and manager. Everyone is entitled to a bit of luck. I totally disagree.
“We were well beaten tonight by a team technically better than us and who have a world-class player in their team. I don’t agree with you in terms of luck running out. It was a commendable effort from the team. I have won enough trophies, I got to a Uefa Cup final.”