After back-to-back titles, O’Neill tackles N.I. job

[caption id="attachment_69050" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="After success at Shamrock Rovers in Dublin, Michael O'Neill will try his hand at international management north of the border."]


Michael O’Neill, who left Shamrock Rovers last month to become Northern Ireland manager, is expected to be named the Irish Soccer Writers’ Personality of the Year at their annual dinner in Dublin on Friday night next. O’Neill has made it to the short list of six from where the winner will come after leading Rovers to back to back league titles and making history by taking the Hoops into the group stages of the Europa League for the first time. Last year’s winner Paul Cook the Sligo Rovers manager, is also on the short list as is Tommy Dunne, who brought Cork City back to the premier division last November. Three players are also nominated: Eamon Zayed (Derry City), Joseph Ndo (Sligo Rovers) and Pat Sullivan, who got that brilliant goal for Shamrock Rovers against Partizan Belgrade last September. The Soccer Writers’ Personality of the Year awards were inaugurated in 1961 when Derry-born Dan McCaffrey, then with Drumcondra, was the winner. McCaffrey is still with us and he attends the dinner every year.

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Meanwhile O’Neill, who won 31 caps for Northern Ireland, says he hopes to try and win back a few of the players who have declared for the Republic. O’Neill, the first Catholic to manage the North since Peter Doherty in 1962, says he will try and get Marc Wilson and James McClean to change their minds. Belfast-born Wilson has won one cap under Trapattoni, but it wasn’t a competitive game and he could still change his mind. McClean has been capped at under-21 level for the North, but when the player joined Sunderland from his native Derry last August, he said he wanted to declare for the Republic.


The English FA has finally put an end to speculation that there might be a friendly against The Republic in Dublin prior to the Euro 2012 finals. England will play Norway in Oslo on May 26 and their final warm-up game will be against Belgium at Wembley on June 2. So that overdue friendly against The Republic will have to wait until August or maybe November.

On the domestic scene Aaron Callaghan is the new manager of Bohemians, replacing Pat Fenlon, who has moved to Scottish club Hearts. Callaghan has previously worked with UCD and St Patrick’s Athletic. Seán McCaffrey, the former Irish youth manager, is the new manager of Dundalk and Tony Mannion has returned to Salthill Devon. Meanwhile former Celtic defender Willie McStay, who spent a few season with Sligo Rovers, is reported to be in the running for Derry City job following Stephen Kenny’s departure to join Shamrock Rovers. McStay is currently assistant manager with English club Stockport County, but apparently he is keen to return to the League of Ireland.


As we approach the penultimate round of the Heineken Cup this weekend three of the four Irish provinces are looking good for the knock out stages; Leinster and Munster are nearly there, Ulster still have a good chance, but competition debutants Connacht have no hope of qualifying. Cup holders Leinster are clear leaders of pool three and on Friday they travel to play second placed Glasgow Warriors. Leinster finish with a home game against Montepellier on Saturday week and should qualify and secure a home quarterfinal. Munster are also looking good for a home quarterfinal draw.

At present Ulster are top of their group, but they face a tough game against Leicester at Ravenhill on Friday night and finish with a trip to Northampton the following weekend. Connacht manager Eric Elwood will have to plan without three key players: Johnny O’Connor, Ronan Loughney and Brian Tuohy for the next few weeks. They have lost all four of their games to date and have picked up just two bonus points. On Friday, Connacht have a mountain to climb in Toulouse and are home to Harlequins in their final game in the group.


For most soccer supporters much of the fun of a major tournament is watching the television panels. At recent World Cup and European Championships RTE has been the big winner with insightful analysis from pundits like: Johnny Giles, Liam Brady, Eamon Dunphy and Graeme Souness. Last week RTE’s long-serving anchor man Bill O’Herlihy suggested that he would love to see Roy Keane joining the RTE panel next summer. That would certainly be a controversial move, but apart from the fact that Keane has been doing a bit of punditry for British station ITV, it’s seems an unlikely. It’s no secret that Keane and Brady are not on friendly terms and even though Dunphy ghosted Keane’s autobiography, the pair later fell out. Giles, too, has been critical of the Corkman in the past. But I suppose it would make for great television.


Former GAA President and Irish Echo publisher Peter Quinn believes the GAA is strong enough to endure the current economic crisis. In an interview with the Irish Examiner last week, Quinn said: ‘‘The GAA is very resilient and always has been resilient. That’s what has made it successful as it has been although there are arguments that could be made for why it hasn’t been more successful. The GAA will bounce back from difficulties. I don’t known how long it will take, but the decision-making process seems adequate enough to ensure it will be in the right position when things improve.’’ Quinn also said that current GAA President Christy Cooney was unwise to declare he would tackle the issue of payments to managers and not follow it up. Last April Cooney said he would be calling a major discussion forum on payment to managers within two months, but so far nothing definite has happened.

Quinn said: ‘‘It was unwise to make promises that you can’t fulfil, but every president for the past 20 years has looked at payments of managers and the fact is none of those payments are coming through county board accounts. We know some managers are getting paid, but I believe the figures that are being quoted are way out of line. I don’t have a great problem with payments to managers, but it should be controlled. I don’t believe in under the table payments and ‘shamateurisim,’ I don’t believe it’s good financial management. Payments to intercounty managers are not costing the Association anything and the amounts being speculated are exaggerated. I would be more concerned with club managers, especially payments to those who are managing their own club teams, which in my view is totally absurd.’’