Come the day that the tenure of Michael O’Neill as Northern Ireland manager is dissected and debated there of course will be plenty to talk about. That it ought to be of a positive nature does not take great insight. The footballing side of things is fairly well known but once someone and their image or personality spills beyond their natural bailiwick into the national consciousness, you can be sure they have made their mark. When non- footballing folk are aware of his persona you can be sure waters are lapping above the normal tide mark. Gareth Southgate is presently enjoying this status in England between his team and his waistcoat.
Last week’s announcement that Leeds goalkeeper, Bailey Peacock – Farrell has pledged his international future to Northern Ireland rather than England who had approached him I would argue, should be something that goes onto the O’Neill roll of honour as one of his finest achievements. This is irrespective of your views on BPF’s culpability in Bosnia’s second goal. Pride of place, the article stood for nearly a day on the top of the BBC NI website. I’m not sure I saw it at all on the national BBC football website where NI events scrape in somewhere at about knee level. This is one kick in the shins all the same for England. Let nobody be in doubt this is a line in the sand. A line in the sand that won’t wash away with the next tide. It stands out all the more with the downdraught of Declan Rice’s head spinning in an eastward direction.
If you listen to Peacock-Farrell in his interview you are instantly aware that this is a man of substance. A young man of substance. Twenty – one years old and already I am thinking this is someone who understands and appreciates what could be considered tired and unfashionable attributes, especially in the low – level standards and expectations of modern day big time football. Already I am thinking Captain Farrell, there’s whiskey, with an e in your jar.
In the murky light of one of Uefa’s more stupid ideas of being dual country-eligible whilst only ‘friendly- capped’, there would have been those certainly who would have been disappointed on this side of the Irish Sea, but not surprised. None would have been more disappointed than manager Michael O’Neill who had courted and encouraged him whilst he was an unknown in the mills of Yorkshire. In monitoring him and taking him to Central America in the summer the young goalkeeper, clearly already possessed of a sensitive antennae will have noted the honest to goodness bond and decency that lurks within the NI squad. Being exposed to the likes of Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Josh Magennis amongst others would have tripped a wire in this young man’s head that he belongs with these type of people.
He would have seen how being part of the Northern Ireland squad offers positivity and that his efforts would cut a deeper furrow in a different way to the hidden dangers of walking amongst three lions. Three lions whose roar might not carry the same warmth as a Windsor one. A man who was thinking of his grandfather who qualifies him rather than how far he could push his own international career. Selfless and giving, rather than selfish and taking. Simple loyalty! He of course is not the first ‘Englishman’ to declare for us. We have enjoyed the benefits of many from Chris Nicholl to Oliver Norwood. But most who have played for us realise it is their best chance of international football and in reality don’t have a choice to make. Young Bailey has every chance of a career with England – but he chose us. I for one will raise a glass of your own Irish cream to you
It is a team where the ‘Number One’ shirt has cast a shadow far down the pitch from the penalty box down the years. From Elisha Scott and Harry Gregg, to Pat Jennings and Maik Taylor he could be our goalkeeper for the next fifteen years. I suggest if he does he will have memories that will sustain him all his life. Well done Sir, and well done Michael O’ Neill. You have fanned your tail to the fans and the colours we see are green and white, and they look magnificent.