O’Neill may be a throwback, but his style suits Ireland perfectly

Not everything is about stats...


It’s always worth remembering that football managers are human beings. However, given the pre-rehearsed drivel some spout in press conferences and their methodical mindset when it comes to the sport, it’s not an easy concept to invest in.

At times, it appears these people forfeited their personalities in exchange for an in-depth understanding of eleven-versus-eleven.

Martin O’Neil relies on instinct and old-school man management. His style is a major throwback, even if it upsets those who don’t believe in intangibles.

The sheer measure of club football we’re exposed to doesn’t always aid our understanding of the game at international level. Invoking the pride players, at least in theory, should feel when representing their country isn’t always straightforward. Especially not with a squad where so many haven’t been exposed to the nation often enough, and qualify via various ancestral ties.

Whatever O’Neill’s approach to motivation is, it works.

The calls for flashier managers to come in and develop a style of play over a short period of time that’s conducive across all levels – from underage to senior setup – isn’t feasible.

High Performance Director Ruud Dokter is in charge of the direction Irish football is taking. Yet for all the analytics he can cite and all the best-laid plans he probably has, you cannot implement what O’Neill does.

Maybe that’s why his tenure has caused such division among the fanbase. You don’t see what makes him effective. You never will. The clues are in how his players speak about him – and the effort they put in.

Nobody can accuse the side of not giving it one hundred per cent while O’Neill has been over them. That’s the one constant – hidden beneath a disjointed blueprint for football. While they may look devoid of attacking threat, they’re never undone by being outbattled.

This is why the Derry native says he loves when Ireland are underdogs. Players rise to the occasion and give more.

In some matchups, it won’t be enough – but that’s accepted.

Luck is another factor. While many will claim the 65-year-old is lucky, it’s almost impossible to be lucky every time he needs a helping hand. The Republic of Ireland face Denmark with a rake of injuries – none more significant than captain Seamus Coleman. That’s hardly lucky.

Up to ten players could miss the second leg of the playoff if they’re booked in Copenhagen. While a lot of that is down to their determined approach, it’s hardly fair to say O’Neill orchestrated a rash approach; justifying the theory that he’s made his own luck in that situation.

2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier, Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales 9/10/2017
Wales vs Republic of Ireland
Ireland’s James McClean celebrates scoring his sides opening goal
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

We live in a footballing society where people are obsessed with stats. Where people are obsessed with the tiniest details of the game. You certainly can’t become an elite manager without a huge understanding of the sport, nor without implementing a specific gameplan for each individual opponent. O’Neill doesn’t do that – but maybe he doesn’t need to be ‘elite’ in that sense.

This squad aren’t an elite force in European football. Therefore, they don’t require a manager to push them to the next level on the pitch. You don’t get enough time with players at international level. That’s a national identity installed over time by the governing association.

O’Neill makes the most of what he has and understands his limitations.

If they qualify for the World Cup, nobody will care about approach.

That’s when tangibility becomes irrelevant to the general public.

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