By Glenn Mason
The new era in Irish football dawned bright as the afternoon winter sun shone upon Dublin’s Gibson Hotel for Martin O’Neill’s first press conference as Republic of Ireland senior manager.
It was to be a well-organised, professional event, not always the FAI’s forte in the past.
There was plenty of coffee, tea and prawn-less sandwiches to feed and water the media masses who had gathered to hear O’Neill’s words over an hour before he took to the stage.
Camera crews set up their kits to stream the event around the world, as photographers massed at the top table to get the best shot of the new man.
While the announcement of O’Neill’s appointment may have been dragged out all week, there was still a sense of something new, something to look forward to. There was the enthusiasm that was lacking at Giovanni Trapattoni’s press events towards the end of his five-and-and-a-half reign.
There was a brief kerfuffle before the main event began as O’Neill appeared behind sliding doors to pose for photographs with his new boss, FAI chief executive John Delaney.
Delaney is celebrating after securing the signature of his number one target and there are few in the game who would begrudge him his moment.
The presence of Labour Relations chief executive Kieran Mulvey turned a few heads, with Miriam Lord of the Irish Times wondering if there had already been a row in the five-day “marriage made in heaven”.
Mulvey was there of course in his role as chairman of the Irish sports Council. Still, he may be handy to have around if Roy Keane and Delaney fall out again and heads need to be bashed.
Ah yes, Roy. The new assistant manager was absent from the day’s proceedings, as he was performing part of his new duties by watching players in Villa Park in Birmingham, but that didn’t stop the questions coming.
As an accomplished media performer, O’Neill took them in his stride, with a little humour thrown in. He is still the boss even if Keane tries to change things. “He told me that he would reverse [their roles] in about ten minutes,” O’Neill said with a smile.
Keane may have been the subject of many of the questions, but he was not around to share the spotlight. Indeed, the only thing that briefly threatened to overshadow O’Neill was Delaney’s coiffured hair.
"The only thing that briefly threatened to overshadow O’Neill was Delaney’s coiffured hair"
Having done his talking in his numerous media appearances since the deal was announced, Delaney sat largely silent by O’Neill’s side, only speaking when asked to by the manager.
He seemed content after getting his man and burying the hatchet with Keane, who is due to speak to the media in the middle of the week.
O’Neill’s assured performance impressed those in attendance, with most fans certain to follow in the days and weeks ahead. However, those expecting any soft touch would be mistaken as he showed he still has a steely edge.
His dismissal of his Sunderland successor Paul Di Canio was simple but cutting. “He is not actually in work at the moment,” was part of his response to a question to about his departure from the Stadium of Light earlier this year.
As O’Neill spoke, there were no confusing answers, no puzzled faces in the audience. Unlike the Trapattoni era, there was nothing lost in translation.
Afterwards, journalists were at a loss as they didn't have to huddle together to try to make sense of the manager’s latest offering.
In contrast to the Sunderland situation, O’Neill was keen to show deference to his predecessor at international level and said he is willing to speak to Trapattoni about his experience in the job.
O’Neill hopes the fans who deserted the team in recent months will return and he hopes they will be excited by a team playing “with a little bit of style and a little bit of panache”.
If this opening performance is anything to go by, the crowds won’t be away for long.