He played for Ireland in a European Championship, a World Cup, and he qualified for a World Cup as Ireland manager - so there's no questions about Mick's loyalties!
My mother-in-law is 93 years old and originally from the Curragh in Kildare, and she sums it up perfectly: There are men from Ireland and then there are Irish men. That’s the way it is.
When people questioned me about my Irishness I used to say to them, ‘If you left Ireland to live abroad and had children, and your son was good enough to represent Ireland in any sport, would you think he is Irish and able to play for them?’ Every single person would give me the same answer. Of course they’d let their son play for Ireland, and that’s exactly what I did and exactly what a lot of players are still doing. There’s no issue there.
Ireland only get bashed with the ‘Non-Irish’ stick by the teams they’ve beaten, strangely enough! When I was playing there was myself, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, John Aldridge, Chris Morris and plenty more who were born of Irish parents, but outside the island of Ireland. I tend to think as a player and a manager that you are accepted far quicker if you’re winning. If the team is doing well nobody cares, that’s the fickle nature of sport. It doesn’t matter where you are from or where you were born, as long as you’re winning.
One of the first jobs I had as manager of the Ireland team was to write to every single club in England and Scotland to find out if there were any players of Irish descent that would qualify to play for the national team. The irony of that was the first reply I got, and it was a very polite reply it must be said, was from Glasgow Rangers telling me that they didn’t have any. To be honest I thought that but I sent the letter nevertheless. It’s probably far easier to research now with the advances in technology, but back then it was a generic letter looking for squad members who may be eligible and looking out for Irish names!
You can’t do much more than finding out if a player is eligible and then pursuing them. There are a lot of lads who turn the opportunity down because they want to play for England, there’s a lot of lads who turn it down as well because they don’t feel Irish. The FAI do pursue it as best they can, but it comes down to whether the individual wants to play for Ireland – Jack Grealish for example didn’t want to. It doesn’t matter how aggressively the FAI pursue players if they have no interest in representing Ireland.
I used to be a believer that the Ireland team should have an Irish manager, the England team should have an English manager and so on. But things are changing more and more now. You only have to look at the amount of foreign managers in the Premier League to realise that. It comes back to how successful the manager is, in relation to how accepted he is. Everybody loved Giovanni Trapattoni when he qualified for Euro 2012, but the mood changed when Ireland started losing.
If you look back on Ireland’s history, how many Irish managers have there been and how many have been successful? Jack Charlton is an obvious success. However if Scotland hadn’t beaten Bulgaria and we hadn’t’ qualified for Euro 88 Jack would have been an Englishman who had failed with Ireland, as it is he is an honuary Irishman and a hero. If my Irishness was ever questioned I can tell them I played for Ireland in a European Championship, a World Cup, I’ve qualified for a World Cup as Ireland manager, so that’s not bad!
There’s a myth that a manager is more passionate if he comes from that country. You can’t buy that passion. You can’t buy the fact that you were born in a certain area, or you supported a certain club, or you played for certain teams, you can’t buy that. But that doesn’t mean you’re more passionate about your job, your team, or about winning. Every manager brings in fresh ideas and they all have their own way of doing it, that doesn’t mean a ‘foreign’ manager is the right choice. It comes down to who is the best man for the job at that particular time, and of course it comes down to budget. Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson were on huge deals at England, and the FA felt they were the best men for the job at the time.
Can I ever see myself managing England? It’s never going to happen!
On Tuesday night Ireland lost 2-1 to Belarus in Cork in what was their final warm-up game ahead of Euro 2016, but that doesn’t matter. In 2002 ahead of the World Cup we lost the final warm-up game 2-1 to Nigeria at Lansdowne Road and we still went on to the Round of 16 and took Spain to penalties. The team that Ireland started with last night was clearly not the team that will start the opening game against Sweden and also, players won’t want to get injured in the last game, they want to be on the plane for the tournament, there’s probably a few nerves, and all that’s going on in the players’ heads. It’s a kick in the nuts, no doubt about it. You don’t want to leave the country on a negative. But the most important thing for the team is how they now respond.
If you’re going to lose one game, it’s better that they lose the final warm-up game against Belarus than the opening game of the tournament!