Touching heart-to-heart over a not-so-close shave
MARTIN O’Neill explained with a laugh what his heart-to-heart on the pitch with assistant manager Roy Keane was all about yesterday.
As the Irish players and supporters celebrated the 1-0 win that propelled Ireland into the knockout phase of the European Championships for the first time, O’Neill and Keane embraced.
“I told him to shave his beard,” said O’Neill yesterday.
“It was rustling my chin and I don’t want him to hug me again ever.
“He said: ‘You are an ugly sod’ and I agreed... I retorted: ‘You’re not Paul Newman either’.”
O’Neill said the wild scenes of celebration on the pitch and in the stands after the final whistle continued inside the Republic of Ireland’s dressing room.
“The players were very emotional,” he said.
“Robbie Brady’s face epitomised how we all felt. It was a wonderful moment. We had a great journey home. It was memorable.
“It’s nice for some of those players to be mentioned in the same breath as Ronnie Whelan [a goalscorer at Euro 1988], who wasn’t only a great player for Ireland but great player for Liverpool as well.
“So if indeed they are being considered in the same light they will take that as a big compliment.
“We needed to seal that performance last night with a win because I don’t think we wanted to go home feeling, yeah, great performance but should have had a penatly. Wes should have scored, didn’t do… and in two days’ time it’s forgotten.
“We’ve come up big at the end of the game, and deservedly so, so to have qualified and gone through is immense in that sense.”
Great European nights at Celtic Park flashed into Martin O’Neill’s mind as he watched the Republic of Ireland beat Italy 1-0.
O’Neill was a typically animated presence on the touchline throughout the nail-biting Group E clash that was decided by Brady’s late goal.
“In many ways, the evening was reminiscent of great European nights at Celtic, it really was,” said O’Neill.
“We were talking about it earlier, a great evening against Juventus some years ago where the place was rocking and we followed it up with a couple of great nights, one against Liverpool where the atmosphere was incredible. that’s what it felt like.
“I could see parallels drawn with that, a real memorable evening, it really was. In terms of where it ranks, let us see, it was a great evening which carries us through and now let’s see how we get on."