It's time the FAI put a stop to Martin O'Neill's toe-curling interviews
IT was precisely 71 days since Tony O’Donoghue last interviewed Martin O’Neill.
A sufficient cool-off period, you might say.
Judging by his cringeworthy interview with the RTE reporter after Wednesday's Uefa Nations Cup draw in Lausanne, it was abundantly clear 71 days wasn’t anywhere near long enough for the Republic of Ireland manager.
He was still full of rage.
O’Neill spent the large bulk of those 71 days reflecting on Ireland’s 5-1 play-off defeat to Denmark back in mid-November. In the interim, an unsigned two-year contract lay in cold storage.
During O’Neill’s period of reflection he flirted with the Everton and Stoke City jobs, but ended up staying on with Ireland.
After 71 days of reflection, O’Neill thought it best to try and belittle O’Donoghue over the tone and content of his questions put to him in the immediate aftermath of the Denmark hammering.
Back then, O’Donoghue’s questioning of O’Neill was undoubtedly hard but fair.
At one point in the mixed zone, O’Donoghue put it to O’Neill that the second half performance against the Danes was a “shambles”.
It was probably the adjective that annoyed O’Neill most.
Some might have argued O’Donoghue was kicking a man when he was down. Others argue that O’Neill’s tactics and personnel changes against Denmark were exactly that: a shambles.
O’Neill is a wise old owl who is very well paid by the FAI for his services.
He’s been around enough corners in a very successful managerial career to know that you can’t be treated with kid gloves by the media after a 5-1 home defeat - and perhaps more significantly the desperately meek manner of that defeat.
Having followed O’Neill in the Ireland job over the last four years, I've found the most surprising aspect to his character is how prickly he is to criticism.
I expected a man of his considerable stature in the game to have broader shoulders than he’s displayed in the role.
His behaviour towards O’Donoghue in Lausanne was far from statesmanlike. O’Neill came across as petty, spiteful and rude.
For an intelligent man, he showed absolutely no sense of audience.
As he tried to point-score in the most juvenile manner possible he seemed to have no notion of how his uncomfortable four-minute interview would come across.
O’Neill was not only speaking to O’Donoghue - he was speaking to the nation.
That small matter was totally lost on O’Neill.
The 65-year-old Derryman quite patently failed in his argument to portray O’Donoghue as “disingenuous” just because he happened to say “hard luck” off-air before the post-Denmark interview started.
Clearly, O’Donoghue is paying for the perceived sins of RTE’s analysts back in the studio, some of whom have regularly over-cooked their criticism of successive Irish managers.
After Ireland’s limp display in Georgia last October, O’Neill showed utter contempt for O’Donoghue – so the ill-feeling pre-dates the Denmark play-off.
O’Neill’s pedantic approach to Wednesday’s interview was toe-curling.
One wonders what the FAI’s top brass thought of O’Neill’s remarks. Should their senior international manager – their employee – not be reprimanded for his behaviour?
Does anyone in the FAI care?
Does O'Neill care?
Relations between the Irish media and the FAI are probably at an all-time low – and there have been quite a few low points over the years.
One wonders did the FAI discuss the fractious relationship with RTE and O’Donoghue at any stage since mid-November?
Did anyone think of getting all the warring parties in the same room in a bid to sort out the obvious tensions that manifest in the full glare of the public after games?
Did the association’s PR department advise O’Neill in any shape or form?
Do they have any influence over O’Neill? Or maybe O’Neill calls the shots.
The way in which O’Neill conducted himself after the Nations Cup draw – by the way, the Republic drew Denmark and Wales – did him no favours.
If anything, he came away from the RTE microphone slightly diminished – in the same way Jim McGuinness did after insisting that a journalist be ejected from the press conference room after Donegal had just won the All-Ireland in 2012.
Here was a man celebrating his finest hour and yet he was full of negative energy.
Of course, the GAA should never have acquiesced in removing the journalist from the room.
And, in hindsight, the rest of us should have followed him out of the room.
You live and learn.
Of course, McGuinness didn’t do it in front of the cameras, the way O’Neill did, but it remains one of the most regrettable press conferences ever conducted by the GAA.
Jim Gavin, the Dublin manager, was way ahead of the game – or so we thought, until he began pontificating about freedom of expression in the Republic not being absolute in light of Pat Spillane berating Dublin player Diarmuid Connolly.
It begs the question: where were O’Neill’s advisers? Likewise, Gavin’s and McGuinness’s?
You can only reach the conclusion that too many press relations officers in the various spheres don’t wield influence over their subjects.
If they did, Jim McGuinness might have been persuaded to act differently. Jim Gavin might not have referred to the democratic principles of Ireland after a football match.
And Martin O’Neill might not have been so determined to embarrass Tony O’Donoghue ‘live’ on air when his approach had the opposite effect.
Lausanne was car-crash TV.
The sad part was we all seen it coming.
It's long past the time where the FAI need to put a stop to this embarrassing side-show.