Martin O’Neill showed off his very individual sense of humour today.
At times in the past, his attempts to make jokes have landed him in hot water. Indeed, such is his quirky take on life, that he often has to point out when he has tried to be funny just to be on the safe side.
But on the eve of one of the biggest matches of a glittering career as both a player and manager, the Republic of Ireland boss was in jovial and relaxed form as he addressed the assembled media as his press conference ahead of Tuesday night’s World Cup play-off against Denmark.
His interest was piqued by the sight of his former Leicester player Stan Collymore, working for a Russian television company, among the assembled journalists.
When asked by O’Neill if he spoke Russian, Collymore said: “I could teach you a bit.”
O’Neill replied: “You taught me a lot Stan. Some of the things are unrepeatable. You taught me how to live.”
Having answered the former striker’s questions, O’Neill added: “He was actually a very good player for us [turning to Collymore] until you broke your leg, really good.
“Remember that hat-trick against Sunderland? You and Heskey up front.”
Collymore said: “I remember it well. You should have taken me to Celtic, mind. But never mind. Maybe in the next lifetime.”
O’Neill replied: “In the next lifetime? I think I’ll see that next lifetime before you. Long before you.”
The manager’s mood was equally light as he discussed the possibility of the tie being settled by a penalty shoot-out.
O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane have put their players through their paces from 12 yards in preparation and midfielder David Meyler, who captained Ireland to victory over Moldova and Wales last month, insisted he will be ready to step up as required.
Asked if he would take a penalty, he replied simply: “Yes,” – repeating the same answer twice when asked if he had taken one before and if he was confident of scoring.
But O’Neill appeared less confident when he said, to general amusement: “Yes, we practised penalties – and Meyler missed.”