LOOKING back to September, Martin O’Neill’s contract was running down but the FAI’s patience was hardly running thin.
In a rare interview, John Delaney – the association’s Chief Executive – made it plainly clear that come what may, O’Neill will be in charge for the next World Cup qualifying campaign.
“It is always positive to hear the senior manager is very happy in the job,” Delaney said. “From his point of view, there are two big games coming up, and possibly two more in November. Results went our way in September but they could go the other way in October just as easily.
“With this in mind, the thing, as always, is to let the games take place, see where we finish up post October or November, and then sit down and talk about what he – and the Association – would like to do. He has done a really fine job.”
So far, so straightforward. All we needed to hear, then, were O’Neill’s thoughts. And in October, they came.
He said: “My plan is to qualify for France and if I think that my employers would want me to stay on, then I would certainly want to have a look at that.”
Within a month, he had achieved just that. Victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina sparked wild celebrations in the Aviva Stadium and generated fresh debate about the future. Would O’Neill stay?
Another month passed and incredibly there was still no sign of that elusive new contract.
Christmas, New Year, his daughter’s wedding and even St Valentine’s Day all passed before the subject was brought up again. And still there was no deal signed.
“Regarding my contract, there is no great difficulty,” O’Neill continued. “In actual fact, contracts have never been a big issue for me throughout my career. I’ve tended, for the most part, to stick to them.
“So we will hopefully sit down before the couple of friendly games [against Switzerland and Slovakia next month]. The fact is that I have loved the job here. It’s been really, really fantastic and obviously qualification is, for lack of a better word, vindication for the time spent here.”
The matches came and went. But what about that new contract? “I haven’t any news on it,” O’Neill said in the aftermath of the Slovakia game. “I think there should be something very, very shortly but I think that we’re keen to get things going and the FAI have been excellent about it.”
Perhaps, though, it is time their standards dipped from excellence to mediocrity. Perhaps they should cast their minds back to Euro 2012, to another manager, another successful qualification campaign and another decision whether to stick or twist.
In handing Giovanni Trapattoni an extension to his terms back then, they left themselves open to being stuck with a man they didn’t want in the aftermath of that tournament. Of course there’s a notable difference.
By 2012, Trap’s regime was four-years-old and showing signs of fatigue. Qualifying merely masked over the problems that were deeply set. O’Neill’s voice, by contrast, remains fresh.
However, the rhetoric surrounding his contract is beginning to tire. We are in April now and if both parties are genuinely interested in re-enacting their vows and prolonging the marriage then why has it taken so long for a deal to be struck?
If ever there was a case of inactions speaking louder than words, this is it, and O’Neill’s old club are Celtic surely monitoring the situation.