ARU plays down possible O'Neill return - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

ARU plays down possible O'Neill return

By Jim Morton 30/08/2006 06:51:17 PM Comments (0)

Political parties may be next to target John O'Neill's services as the sports administrator and Australian Rugby Union both played down moves for his return to the 15-man game.

A day after announcing he was leaving soccer, O'Neill denied being approached by his previous employer while the ARU board closed ranks around current boss Gary Flowers.

Speculation rugby powerbrokers were paving the way for O'Neill to return as chief executive, prompted an immediate denial from the ARU board before it sat in Sydney.

But the nine-man board left the way open for it to headhunt O'Neill after current boss Flowers' contract ends in 16 months.

"It is the view of the board that Gary will see out his existing contract which runs to the end of 2007," said ARU chairman Ron Graham.

"It is too early to speculate beyond that as it is more than 12 months away and we would not anticipate entering discussions until the Rugby World Cup is over.

"Speculation about any role for John O'Neill with Australian or international rugby is just that, speculation."

O'Neill has said he would take time off after finishing as Football Federation Australia chief executive in March before looking for a new challenge.

Queensland Rugby Union chairman Peter Lewis has praised him as the best sports administrator in the country and called for his return to the code he led for eight years during Australian rugby's golden era.

O'Neill joked he wished he had such support when he was dumped after running the highly-successful 2003 World Cup.

"I haven't been approached by rugby at all," he told DMG Radio on Wednesday.

"It's very flattering that there are people out there saying nice things about me and it probably would have been helpful if they had said that a couple of years ago!"

The board that cut O'Neill loose has all but been dismantled, replaced by some who are supporters and friends.

As he ponders his next challenge, Queensland and NSW political figures both talked up his credentials.

Queensland Nationals MLA Mike Horan, father of Wallabies great Tim, was adamant O'Neill's background in banking and sports administration would be highly successful in politics.

"He's got all the credentials, everything he's done so far has been outstanding," said Horan, a former minister and state Opposition leader.

"It would certainly give him a great amount of credibility and a proven track-record in experience to be able to make it in politics."

"It depends on what he sees as his next challenge ... and a challenge brings out the best of him."

The NSW government has already shown an interest in courting O'Neill to help with its push to attract major events to the state.

"His skills in sports administration are legendary," said NSW Premier Morris Iemma.

"If there is an opportunity we would love to have someone of John O'Neill's experience and skill and undoubted success."

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