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'O'Neill has to come out and explain what's gone on'

Ex-Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews feels let down by how the current manager handled Stoke City’s interest.

Andrews at  the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme with  students from Scoil Mhuire CBS and St Vincent de Paul’s Girls NS today.
Andrews at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme with students from Scoil Mhuire CBS and St Vincent de Paul’s Girls NS today.
Image: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

NOW THAT MARTIN O’Neill looks set to continue as Ireland’s manager for another two-year cycle he needs to publicly clear the air, says Keith Andrews.

The Derryman has kept quiet over the past week as he held talks with Stoke City about taking the manager’s job — refusing to comment at last Friday’s Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland awards dinner in Dublin.

At two different stages, O’Neill appeared odds-on to accept the Potters’ offer but the 65-year-old has opted to turn down a return to the Premier League and his former player at Celtic, Paul Lambert, was confirmed as Mark Hughes’ replacement yesterday.

Despite announcing a verbal agreement back in October, the Ireland boss has yet to officially sign a new deal and that is sure to lead to more uncertainty unless the situation changes very soon.

Former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Andrews, who won 35 senior caps for the Boys in Green, hasn’t been impressed by how recent events have been handled and the Sky Sports pundit believes O’Neill now has questions to answer.

“I was critical of the [Denmark] performance, but in terms of Martin’s reign, I think it’s been a success,” Andrews said at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s programme today.

“The last week has been very disappointing. If I was a current player, I’d be disappointed how it has played out, because it’s been radio silence, hasn’t it? We haven’t heard anything, and we’ve had to wait for little titbits of news.

It has been disappointing, and ultimately Martin has to come out and say what’s gone on. If he was tempted back into club management at Premier League level, and he gives us that honesty about it, I think that’s fair enough.

“I do think he needs to explain what he was tempted by and how close he was, because we need that bit of trust built up again for us all to move forward. It’s been doom and gloom since the middle of November, so we need a bit of positivity.”

Martin O'Neill Martin O'Neill at last Friday's SWAI annual banquet in Dublin. Source: ©INPHO

Despite his achievements since taking over four years ago, there has been a general feeling of apathy at the prospect of O’Neill stepping down from many Ireland fans.

Asked if the past week has damaged the ex-Celtic manager’s standing among supporters, Andrews replied: ”Initially, yes. I’m a fan, and I was disappointed. I very much think of myself as a fan, but we all know that in a few weeks’ time it will die down.

They will get together in March, he’ll be asked about it, and then it’s very much about results from there.”

O’Neill and FAI chief executive John Delaney are expected to make a statement later this week ahead of the Nations League draw in Lausanne on 24 January, which he is scheduled to attend.

And looking ahead to the Euro 2020 qualification campaign, Andrews is optimistic that all parties can put this episode to one side and mount a strong challenge for the next major tournament on offer.

“I don’t know what’s going on in Martin’s head, and maybe he still sees himself as a Premier League manager, but whatever happened behind the scenes — whether it’s the length of the contract at Stoke which has been spoken about — ultimately that hasn’t happened and everyone has to move on,” he said.

“You’d imagine now that the contract will be signed, and for Martin to get us qualified for major tournament games to be played in Dublin — that would be special.”

The SPAR FAI Primary School 5s programme was launched with a pop up training session at Scoil Mhuire CBS, Dublin today, where former Republic of Ireland footballer and past pupil, Keith Andrews, and current Republic of Ireland women’s footballer, Megan Campbell, provided a coaching masterclass to students from Scoil Mhuire CBS and St Vincent de Paul’s Girls NS. The five-a-side school blitzes are open to boys and girls from 4th, 5th and 6th class, and puts emphasis on fun and inclusivity. Register for the SPAR5s by February 9th at www.fai.ie/primary5

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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