Ireland lost 2-1 to Scotland at Hampden Park tonight. It was like many Ireland matches under Stephen Kenny: Ireland's approach made for absorbing, compulsive viewing but with there were a numbers of notable errors. Those errors were punished by a Scotland team eager to prove a point after getting hammered at the Aviva back in June.
One person with an interesting perspective on the game was Martin O'Neill.
The former Republic of Ireland and Celtic manager provided punditry along with Alan Hutton and Richard Dunne for Premier Sports tonight, who broadcast the game for a Scottish audience.
O'Neill famously had many highs and lows as Ireland manager. Kennyball, if we must call it that, feels partly like a response to the final days of the MON/Keano years. O'Neill also knows the tribalism of Scottish football better than most.
Martin O'Neill on Scotland v Ireland
So it was interesting to hear O'Neill so full of praise for the current Ireland manager tonight on Premier Sports. O'Neill has been critical of Kenny in the past but he noted a 'big improvement' in Ireland in the past few months after the final whistle tonight.
"Overall it's a big improvement. I think they played exceptionally well in Dublin. It was their best performance under Stephen. Absolutely right. They followed it up with a really good performance against Ukraine. And tonight, for really good periods of the game, primarily in the first half, I thought they were excellent."
— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) September 24, 2022
Earlier in the panel's post-match reaction, O'Neill went so far as to Ireland deserved to win this match. This comment did not go down very well with Scotland football twitter (admittedly, some commenters might have been carrying conflicting emotions towards the ex-Celtic manager into the game)
— Graham Muir (@itslegaltender) September 24, 2022
Who gives a fuck if we deserved that. Not how fitba works. Always first to be fair rather than just enjoy a win. Martin O’Neill can go and shite, naebdy cares 🏴 🙌🏼
— Nick (@WheresMaJaiket) September 24, 2022
Martin O’Neill has given me some of my best moments and memories as a Celtic fan, but he’s been a bitter, snidely wee twat tonight on @PremierSportsTV tonight. Well played Scotland. Job done and well deserved. 👏👏🏴
— Phil Fairlie (@FairliePhil) September 24, 2022
There was also a somewhat tetchy exchange between O'Neill and ex-Hibs and Hearts player Michael Stewart, who was co-commentator for the night, during the post-match recap.
— John Boyd (@JohnBoyd86) September 24, 2022
(You can hear Stewart shout 'yaaaaaaaaaaassss' here if you were curious about his co-commentary style.)
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) September 24, 2022
Ireland fans have a complicated relationship with Martin O'Neill. Euro 2016 was a legendary time, but we all carry the scars of the 5-1 loss to Denmark at the Aviva, and the turgid football that followed. Had he and Keane walked away from the job after that playoff, we'd likely look back on the era with more fondness.
Whatever about the past, it is refreshing to see O'Neill defending Stephen Kenny, and Irish football, in enemy territory.