John O’Neill Young, A Fork in the Road…

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John O’Neill will end his second stint at the top of the Australian Rugby Union on October 31st ahead of schedule.

O’Neill was initially set to retire at the end of 2013, after the British & Irish Lions‘  tour of Oz, but his June elevation to chairman of casino company Echo Entertainment has assumedly left the in-tray at critical mass.

“It brought me to a fork in the road a bit sooner than I might have expected” O’Neill said at a news conference last Thursday.

O’Neill on his second period as ARU chief:

“In relative terms, we are in better shape than we were five years ago when I came back. But are we back to where we aspire to be? Well, no. The Wallabies are ranked No. 2 and we have an expanded Super Rugby competition, so it’s probably a six or seven out of 10.”

His contribution to the code has been immense, particularly the achievements during his first tenure.

The following is an article from The Australian comparing O’Neill’s legacy to that of Robert Menzies – “He embarked on a course to professionalise the game without losing its traditional values and ethos. If O’Neill is to be judged on one criterion, that’s it.”

In his second term he was highly influential in luring Robbie Deans to coach the Wallabies.

O’Neill and Robbie Deans in August.

At the same time O’Neill has not been entirely free from criticism.

Click the following for a Daily Telegraph article regarding the standing down of New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence – “O’Neill on Wednesday night rejected any role in Lawrence’s downfall”.

Here is an op-ed by former All Blacks captain Taine Randell – “ARU CEO John O’Neill is a fantastic administrator but he has taken an expand-at-all-costs approach that I think has weakened rather than strengthened their game.”

Yet John O’Neill leaves with a warning for rugby union. Click the following for an article in The Australian – ‘Modernise or face a dim future’.

He takes over at Echo Entertainment after a ‘campaign’ by James Packer to roll former chief John Story, adding to a list of high profile resignations from the casino group.
James Packer’s Crown currently owns 10 percent of Echo, and is seeking a greater share.

O’Neill has fired a ‘hands-off’ warning back to Packer – click here for an article from the Financial Review.

The canny Irishman’s contribution as a sports administrator in this country has been expansive.
In between his two stints at the ARU, O’Neill switched codes and oversaw a great deal of progress in a three year period as the head of Australian soccer; the name-change to the Football Federation Australia (FFA), the introduction of the A-League, and securing Dutch coach Guus Hiddink who led the Socceroos to a knockout stage appearance at the 2006 World Cup.

O’Neill in his time as FFA chief.

Next month though O’Neill will take his management skills away from sport to play a different game, and with Packer on his heels, the stakes are considerably higher.

Where do you think this leaves both the ARU and Echo Entertainment?

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