Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill to steer clear of quips after his Roy Keane Superbowl 'queers' comment

O'Neill apologised after unfortunate quip was made on stage at Euro send off party

By Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill walked into his briefing with newspaper journalists with a genuine desire to apologise for inappropriate comments he made at a function in Cork last week.

He also had a couple of other things that he wanted to get off his chest, but first, the regrets.

The context was a 'Bon Voyage' event hosted by Today FM where the Republic of Ireland manager made an unfortunate quip on stage about his trip to the Superbowl with assistant Roy Keane.

He joked that Steve Guppy and Steve Walford had also made the journey, in case people thought that himself and Keane were "queers".

His comments were criticised by Kieran Rose, the chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network and while O'Neill only briefly addressed the issue in front of the cameras - when he was asked one question on the topic - he offered a more detailed apology in his press conference with print media.

"It was inappropriate and I might turn around and say crass now at the end of the day," said the 64-year-old.

"Almost the minute I had said it, I realised that I should not have said that, absolutely. I should not have said it. You are right to criticise me, believe it or not. Absolutely. It was inappropriate and I could not genuinely be more sorry, that's the case."

O'Neill went on to discuss the fact that one of his former team-mates Justin Fashanu was gay and stressed that he would be willing to help any initiatives to promote equality and inclusivity as part of his apology.

He confessed that his propensity for a one-liner in an attempt at humour can talk him into trouble. Earlier this year, a quip about the attractiveness of wives and girlfriends attracted some controversy.

"Well, I've got to say that somewhere along the line I've got to draw the line," he said, when that was mentioned.

"It was meant as a bit of a joke and that's fine, lads, it will be the last joke that I'll ever (make) for as long as I'm here. . . and hopefully that will be a while longer. It'll be the last one, alright?

"And my inappropriate behaviour, you'll probably pull me up for something and be quite right but I will genuinely attempt not to do it again."

Amid the contrition, there was some anger. O'Neill did take issue with an newspaper article which said that "smug would be too strong a word" to describe the behaviour of the manager and Keane after the latter's stinging criticism of underperforming players.

The same article made reference to the Republic's poor position in the qualifying group before Scotland's loss to Georgia and the unemployed status of the managerial duo before they accepted their current gig.

"We qualified because we got more points than Scotland," O'Neill asserted. "They still had to play Germany and Poland, from which they got one point. We had to play Germany and Poland and we got three."

It was the use of the word 'smug' - even if the piece stopped short of describing him as such - and a reference to his position pre-Republic that struck a nerve with the County Derry man, though.

"You can't use the article (about inappropriate comments) to go and say other things that are not actually right about me," he said, tackling the author.

"I have been in this job two and a half years.

"I have never been smug, never, never been smug about anything. When we qualified, I felt vindicated.

"I have been described as a number of things in my life, not all complimentary, I agree with you, but smugness is not something I do.

"If (term used was) not quite smug then it must be very close. I don't know what the next word is beside it in the dictionary, what sort of synonym is used for it."

O'Neill then dealt with any implication that he was in a bad way before the FAI came calling.

"When I took this job I turned down three other offers at club level," he continued. "You would not believe the offer I had to do a job, (before he decided to) take this job.

"So I was not on my uppers, believe it or not. I took the job because I wanted to do it, I felt it was an honour to do it and following some very, very good people who have done the job."

Belfast Telegraph