Examiner Sports column, 15 Feb 2008

March 21, 2008

Not seeing the wood for the trees

INTERESTING, the reaction to Denis O’Brien’s decision to slip the FAI a few bob for Giovanni Trapattoni’s salary.

There seems to be a general consensus that Trap is the man for the job, though I would have my own doubts about an Italian trying to carry off the dark navy jeans and powder-blue sweater combination we saw him wearing during the week. I think the least we’re entitled to is some form of innovation in the scarf-knotting department for the fashionistas to follow.

On a more serious note, the reaction to O’Brien’s part-funding of Trap and his assistant — widely presumed to be Liam Brady — has been one of forehead-wrinkling suspicion. What’s happened to us when a billionaire can’t throw around some loose change without everyone getting all puritanical?

The hysterical headlines yesterday included ‘What’s In It For Denis’ and came on the heels of a question-and-answer session with Vincent Browne on Wednesday night.

In that conversation O’Brien appeared to contradict John Delaney’s assertion earlier in the day, that O’Brien only became involved in the hunt for a new gaffer after Steve Staunton left the job.

Naturally there’s a certain amount of talking out of both sides of the mouth on this which nobody wants to own up to. After the Staunton experience everyone wanted an experienced manager, preferably one who was used to the international game and who would bring something approaching authority to the role. It took a bit of time, but as Ireland had no games of any consequence in that period, what of it? Andy O’Brien retired from international football in that time and the lengthy appointment process was widely blamed, so… well, we’ll let you supply your own punchline for that one. There are questions the FAI would do well to answer. All concerned were saying yesterday that there were no strings attached to the deal, with the billionaire not having a veto on any potential managers that he didn’t feel like carrying, for instance.

At the same time, it was conceded that O’Brien had been kept “in the loop” during the lengthy search process. The difference between influencing the search and being kept in the loop should be laid out in more detail.

Without becoming too preoccupied with the money, what happens if Trap doesn’t work out? Will Denis get his money back?

Valid questions all, but they should be separated from the lazy personal attacks. There have already been a few snorts about O’Brien’s tax exile status, but when JP McManus bankrolled the redevelopment of the Gaelic Grounds there was general approval. Then again, maybe people just like JP more.

In a broader context, what’s particularly interesting is that if O’Brien had made his gesture even 12 months ago then the reaction would probably have been quite different.

Of course, that was before you had economists and bankers and George Lee elbowing each other in the larynx as they tried to be the first to tell us the good times were over.

Back then — in what I like to call the Boomtime, as the Aborigines call sleeping the Dreamtime — people would have applauded a grand gesture like O’Brien’s.

But times have changed. Given worries about the economy, and jobs, and mortgages, seeing that kind of money thrown around grates in a way it wouldn’t have a few months ago.

At least with his jumper and jeans, Trap isn’t rubbing his salary in all our faces. But readers should note the identities of those wringing their hands and tut-tutting and check back if the manager carries out his promise of bringing Ireland to the World Cup. Will the same people be complaining then?

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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