There’s that old adage about never overstaying your welcome or all the good you’ve done will be forgotten. Martin O’Neill’s tenure turned so toxic that the announcement of him leaving probably goes straight into the list of Irish football’s best days.
Ironically, Irish fans seem to want Arsene Wenger in as his replacement. We’re a unique bunch.
Martin O’Neill certainly isn’t everyone’s favourite Ireland manager, and it’s more a case of rebuilding a disaster zone than it is waiting for the dust to settle. But Robbie Brady’s goal in Lille will live longer in the memory than any manager who happened to be in the role at time of scoring.
There were bright spots and only the last year – one of the most dire in Irish football – tainted that. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane to recap both the best and worst moments of Martin O’Neill’s tenure.
High Point: Robbie Brady in Lille
I never cursed Wes Hoolahan so much in my life. And the few minutes that elapsed between him squandering his chance and Brady scoring felt like an hour. But cometh the hour, cometh the Brady. His header, which, in retrospect, only got us through to be undone by France, is among the handful of defining moments of Irish success at major tournaments.
Low Point: Northern Ireland
The funny thing about the Northern Irish game was the reality setting in of what a group of less-talented players on paper could make us look like. The fact they were only from across the border gave an even clearer perspective, and that their manager, Michael O’Neill, made his name with Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland. It truly was the night it all came together.
High Point: Those 20 Minutes Against Sweden
Honestly, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to go back and watch that brief but glorious spell of relentless offensiveness we put together against Sweden. It culminated in Weso being Weso, but either side of that strike was the first time in my life I thought we’d turned a corner in terms of big games.
Low Point: His Media Interaction
Not only did O’Neill constantly have spats with RTE’s Tony O’Donoghue, he also frequently showed indifference and sometimes disinterest to the Irish press. This was again highlighted when the news of his departure was produced in an English newspaper. O’Neill owes nothing to the media, but he does owe it to the Irish public, on whose behalf the press were acting.
High Point: Shane Long v Germany
If you actually weighed up the relative difficulty and importance levels in Irish sport, beating the world champions in a competitive game, while keeping a clean sheet, would be hard to beat. Whatever Shane Long’s form suggests since is irrelevant, because when he fired past Neuer, the whole country lost their sh*t for a few minutes.
Low Point: Denmark – an anthology
Honestly, take your f**king pick at this stage. Martin O’Neill who consistently refers to Christian Eriksen as a world class player decided to give him free rein by taking off all his midfielders in that World Cup playoff.
High Point: Bosnia Playoff
Zenica was an odd experience for those who went and those who watched, but the all-important away goal came and went and very few even knew what happened due to bizarrely foggy conditions. Even though Edin Dzeko would level minutes later, the tie was in our hands. A 2-0 win at the Aviva ensured that. Viva Jon Walters.
Low Point: Matt Doherty Syndrome
There were players whose form far exceeded those in squads – time and time again, but when Matt Doherty, who had been superb for Wolves for quite some time before his Premier League Player of the Month gong was excluded, it optimised his mantra.
High Point: One Night in Gelsenkirchen
It’s funny how many of our greatest moments come at the expense of the Germans really, isn’t it? John O’Shea is one of Ireland’s greatest servants and to level in the dying seconds against the Germans in Gelsenkirchen on his 100th cap was special for so many reasons.
Low Point: Declan Rice
He’s not solely to blame for Rice’s likely decision to declare for England – but should Rice make a u-turn because of his sacking, then that will reveal more. While Rice is a case and point in and of himself, he could also symbolically represent the long list of dual-eligible players that were turned off by his tenure and the toxic football associated with it.