Martin O’Neill has given his strongest indication yet he is prepared to leave his future as Ireland manager unresolved until after the European Championship finals in June.
Speaking to journalists after launching the FAI Summer Soccer Schools at the Aviva Stadium, O’Neill dismissed the notion money might be a stumbling block in his contract discussions. “No, that wouldn’t be true,” he said.
Indeed, he even went so far as to declare a deal could be “agreed in 10 to 15 minutes”.
But even as he accepted the imminence of World Cup qualifiers later this year adds a certain amount of urgency to the need to lay foundations for the longer-term, the overriding theme of his thoughtful reflections yesterday had to do with how he feels the upcoming Euro finals could either enhance or undermine his credentials as Ireland manager.
And, although he didn’t mention his predecessor by name, it was clear O’Neill is acutely conscious of how quickly the feelgood factor of Irish qualification evaporated at the finals of Euro 2012.
The Derryman, it would appear, is wary of being caught in a similar trap.
“If we were to do well in the competition, try and go out there and really, really compete, then, of course, you are of a great mind,” he said.
“If you go out and don’t compete — and I’m expecting to compete — you start questioning everything again. We have qualified and it’s great. Do I feel as if we have earned the right to at least talk about extending here? Absolutely. John (Delaney) feels the same, which is great.
“Sometimes things will fall into place if you do well. I want to do well. Seriously, I want to do well. If I can draw some sort of comparison with four years ago, I honestly thought, from a distance, that qualification was fantastic. And then expectation got to such a fever pitch, I think, it seemed to be emanating from here that we would beat Croatia, you know, get a point against Spain and then you suddenly think…
“(But) things didn’t go so well and you actually come back from a competition on a downer. That’s my point.
“Sometimes you don’t want to outstay your welcome. It’s interesting there was a period of time where, particularly after Scotland here in June of last year, if I had mentioned contracts to you, you would have been turning around and saying, ‘What are you talking about?’
“Thankfully it has turned around at the minute — (although) not turned around enough for me to be saying, ‘I told you so’.
“I’m just too long in this game to know that you can’t make strong assumptions without the competition being finished. If you sat down and said after we qualified ‘do you deserve it’? Absolutely. But we’re coming in now to a new competition and you are judged again and that’s right because that is the name of this game. You are judged again on the next couple of matches. I don’t want to be sitting down here with a great contentment we have done something — and then find out that I’m flummoxed.”
Or, as he put it later in his exchange with the media: “You don’t want to go into the Euros and do really badly and think ‘are we back to square one?’”
So is the bottom line in all this, he was asked, that old chestnut about being only as good as your last game?
“Absolutely,” came the reply. “So if those things make any sense to you, that’s where I am.”
All that said, O'Neill declined the opportunity to definitively rule out the possibility of a new contract agreement being reached before his existing one runs out – which will coincide with the end of Ireland's interest at the Euros. Nor was he forthcoming about any ambitions a man recently linked with both Celtic and Nottingham Forest might harbour for a possible return to club management. But then, another recurring impression from yesterday's discussion was that here is someone who seems to relish a degree of uncertainty in his professional life.
“It has been a privilege managing this side, I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” he said. “I’ve said this to John, and I would like to have a think about it. There is also the element where you like to be on the edge. As a player, the contracts never really worried me. And they never really worried me through my managerial time. And while I accept the fact that you think this is definitely an issue, it's not to me.
“I’m quite sure deep down that everyone would rather go into the Euros feeling solid,” he conceded at another point. “I’m sure that’s the feeling. John, as I said, we work very well together. It’s just that John comes up against someone who is not solid.”
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