‘I thought that John and myself had agreed to stay on…but we’ll see.”
The main part of this answer to a question about his future as Ireland manager suggests Martin O’Neill believes a verbal deal with John Delaney is a done deal.
That’s been the case before in his contract negotiations with the FAI and may prove to be the case again this time.
Yet that innocent-sounding little postscript — “But we’ll see” — hints at the possibility of how the crushing end to Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign might now totally alter the picture and prevent pen from being put to paper.
The waves of criticism which have engulfed the manager and the players on the back of the harrowing 5-1 defeat to Denmark on home soil have achieved an intensity which seemed wholly unlikely back when the new deal was agreed even before Ireland had played — and then beaten — Moldova and Wales and drawn away to Denmark, before the wheels spectacularly came off in front of a disbelieving full house at the Aviva on Tuesday.
But, at least for now, before he takes a break which will give him time to ponder his options, O’Neill is still speaking like a man who plans to oversee a new period of transition in Irish football, with the World Cup finals off the agenda, 10 long months to go before the inaugural ‘League of Nations’ internationals and players who will be leaving crossing paths with players on their way in.
“Yes, of course,” O’Neill affirms, when asked if there is now a rebuilding job to be done.
“There are some players who would feel that, had the team gone on to the finals then they might have stayed. But they may rethink that now and probably bring their international careers to an end. In my time, they have been fantastic.
“We need to start again. We need to start thinking about the younger element, and trying to blood them through. Obviously we will take it from there. We’ve got the new competition that’s coming in (the League of Nations) and, the draw for that is in January.”
O’Neill reckons that for players, like Cyrus Christie and Shane Duffy, who have broken through in the last two years with high hopes of even greater things to come, Tuesday night will have been the kind of shocking reality check from which they will take some time to recover. And in he long run, he suggests, that might be no bad thing.
“I hope it does take a length of time for them because as a player myself, whatever disappointments you had it takes you some time to get over it and you have to come and fight back,” he says.
“This was a chastening experience for us. We were well beaten in the match. We made a lot of mistakes, mistakes that, generally speaking throughout the campaign, have not really been something we have been doing on a regular basis.
“The players will, I am hoping, take a bit of time out to have a look at it. I hope that eventually it’s not damaging, that these players have proper careers in front of them.”
Reflecting again on the unfolding horror show for his team after the false dawn of Shane Duffy’s goal on Tuesday, the manager concedes: “We were well beaten. We needed to take our chances after we scored early on in the game. A second goal would have been fantastic and it might have been a totally different story. But once you give two very poor goals away, it changes the dynamic of the game and it forces us to come on out and try and score a couple of goals to get back into the game.
“Of course we left ourselves physically weaker by the substitutions but you’re hoping to try and get some goals.”
Asked if he has any regrets about his own decision-making across the two legs of the play-off, he replies: “Saturday I was very pleased with the team. But I think when you are beaten in a game, you have to analyse it and think that maybe you could have (done something differently).
“Of course when you are beaten you feel, well, you’re wrong. There is a right and a wrong so then you are wrong.
“We have been beaten, well beaten and I think we’ll have to have a genuine look at it. Yeah, it would be nice to think in hindsight that I could have done something else.
“I knew that the substitutions would weaken us physically but you’re hoping to try and get something, try and get a little bit of creativity, with Aiden (McGeady) wide and Wes (Hoolahan) maybe joining in, and hoping that we could create something from that.
“But it wasn’t to be and of course you look back and think you could have done things. But being well beaten in the game is the major disappointment.”
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