In April 2010, I travelled from London, where I lived then, to Adare Manor to interview Martin O’Neill. Thanks to the volcanic eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, I made the journey by train, ferry and road but at the end of the interview, it had all seemed worth it.

O’Neill was talkative, energetic and curious. At the end of the hour I’d been allotted, he said we would try and find some more time to talk later and even though we never did, I came away from the day thinking what a great guy Martin O’Neill was.

So when he became Ireland manager, three years later, I was, of course, enthusiastic about renewing our connection because most journalists, no matter what they say, have a little part of them that dreams about access.

O’Neill was rarely the same man I had met that day at Adare Manor during his time as Ireland manager. He seemed baffled from an early stage by the Irish media and the tension was present even when things were going well.

“I didn’t get the Irish media and they didn’t get me,” he writes in his new memoir On Days Like These.

There is, as he would admit, quite a bit to get. Those who know him will talk about his many contradictions and his capacity for friendship as well as his sensitivity. He will talk about these things himself. “Anyway there’s a lot of people I’m not speaking to myself,” he writes in his book.

The Martin O’Neill who arrived in the studio for this episode of Experience was more like the O’Neill I met that day in Adare Manor. Of course, he had a book to promote, but he was also talkative, engaged and curious, while holding firm to the points of view that he has advanced in the book about being treated as an interloper by the Irish media when he was Ireland manager.

The book is better than the extracts suggest. In the extracts, the sense of scores being settled jumped out pretty baldly but when read in the context of the book, it is clear that he forgets nothing but that there is some wryness to his observations. Whatever about the Irish media from his time as manager, he still references comments of Malcolm Brodie from 1982, but as he does, it is clear that he is recalling how he felt more than how he feels now.

Dion Fanning and Martin O’Neill. Photo: Bryan Meade

“What I tried to do is write the book as I was feeling at that time. So trying to write a book when you’re growing up, I wanted to feel that I was 16 again. When I was 16, that’s how I would have written it. When I was 25, I wanted to write it as a 25-year-old and when I would write later, so my comments about Malcolm, who was actually essentially a very, very good sports writer, indeed, were at that time, not 40 years on.”

We talked about his impressions of John Delaney, his time with Ireland, why he handled the interviews with Tony O’Donoghue badly, as well as his childhood and how his parents followed him out of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

But there are aspects that are unexplored in the book. I wanted to know about Delaney and how he felt about how the FAI was being run.

On this point, O’Neill felt he may have known more about it if he was based in Ireland.

DF: It’s a broader point, it’s not about your management, it’s that the FAI, and this all unfolded after you left, but what happened with the FAI and with John Delaney, there wasn’t the money in the association that there should have been because of the dysfunctional way the FAI was run. 

MON: Yes. 

DF: And I just wondered what what was your impression of John Delaney?

MON: Right. Okay. Well, I’ll tell you something. Now, if there was no money in the FAI, it genuinely was not my fault.

DF: No, I’m not saying it was.

MON: I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why. Because qualifying for the Euros and getting to the second stage, and I might be wrong about the figures, was anywhere between 9 million and 11 million euros. So I must have a bit of credit in the bank for that.

DF: No, I accept that. You know what I’m saying. It’s that there was a regime in place, that was John Delaney’s which everyone has learned about subsequently. And I wonder how you felt about what you witnessed, obviously you didn’t see anything to do with financial matters, but there was a certain way that John Delaney was running the FAI at that stage it was kind of ostentatious and egotistical. How did you feel about that as a manager?

MON: Well, I suppose if I was living in it at the time, if I had been living in Ireland, then perhaps maybe I could have seen this more first hand. I’m living in England… So I probably wasn’t aware of this ostentatious –  was the word you used – from John Delaney’s viewpoint or outlook or whatever the case may be and I probably maybe didn’t see this, I think there might be because I was the manager during this particular time, I feel there might be just throwing in of a connection there along the way.”

Martin O’Neill. Photo: Bryan Meade

But there are many aspects to O’Neill. In the podcast, we also tried to explore those contradictions and he remained as open and resistant simultaneously. “I’m glad you’re dressed in black,” he told me at one point. “All you need is a collar around your neck. This is what happens when I go to confession.”