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Friday 20 October 2017

Martin O'Neill wise to keep his head down

Ireland boss steers clear of Roy Keane book controversy

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
Aston Villa's assistant manager Roy Keane during the Barclays Premier League match at The Britannia Stadium, Stoke. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.

HOW odd it was to stand on the side of a pitch in Portmarnock and chat with Martin O'Neill about the deepest, innermost angst of Roy Maurice Keane while the man himself strolled towards the team bus.

How strange after all this time to find out that Keane is not, after all, a mysterious creature with burning demons and a constant inner rage but an ordinary Joe like the rest of us.

The reason we had to ask O'Neill about his sidekick was obvious. Keane's thoughts have flooded the mediasphere in the last few days and in one passage from the new book we find that Roddy Doyle has burrowed into our favourite anti-hero's psyche and found out that, surprise surprise, the Corkman has moments of self-doubt and self-loathing.

In the extract, Keane admits that ultimately, he was the big loser in Saipan and that every time he found himself in the grip of rage, the consequences are similar. He may be right but he takes the hit.

He ponders the possibility that low self-esteem is at the root of it but that he also has a streak in him which is not comfortable with stability. His drinking days are over but he still hungers after the "madness" he dipped into when he was in his pomp as a player.

And he wonders whether he is, in fact, like every man when he craves the safe environment of a good home life but still hankers after hell-raising.

After all this time and a deluge of analysis focused on what makes Roy Keane tick, we find that he deals with pretty much the same things everyone has to work through in greater or smaller extremes.

The impact of drink on his life was clearly significant and while he dealt with it in the Eamon Dunphy version of his life and this is no great revelation, there is an element of the confessional about the words he (and Doyle) use which suggests that he has reached a better accommodation with it and has done so for some time.

Figuring that part of his life out didn't prevent him from falling into deep troughs and he was at a low ebb when an offer to help manage the Ireland senior international team dropped in his lap, although O'Neill didn't sense that at the time.

"No, I'd spoken to him at Champions League games and not seen it at all. I thought his love of football was shining through, he wanted to talk about the game, not so much about his own experiences as a player, really to do with management," said O'Neill.

THOUGHTS

"Again, I'm not party to his inner most thoughts. There were other people around us at the table, like Andy Townsend, who'd say the same thing; that Roy's love of the game hadn't diminished."

"At that stage, maybe people wanted to stay clear of him. Now that he is with us, he's getting offers every day. There you go," he said laughing.

All O'Neill can really do in these circumstances is shrug and ride the wave which Keane creates. He waved aside suggestions that the circus surrounding the book is a distraction and what else can he do?

What the blaze of publicity surrounding 'The Second Half' will do is allow him to prepare for Gibraltar and Germany in its shadow and that will suit him nicely.

Tomorrow is the official publication date and in the normal course of events, we would get to speak with Keane two days before a game so in that sense, there is no break from the schedule other than a shift in timing and venue.

The publisher booked the Aviva Stadium for the media launch which Keane will speak at but after three days of steady leaks, and as much juicy stuff as the entire print, radio, television and digital media can handle, it is a wonder what he will have left to say.

Clearly, it doesn't really matter what he says because there is an insatiable thirst for his words. Whether such a big leak will damage sales, however, is another matter entirely.

Keane himself seemed chipper enough although the beard is wild and wouldn't be out of place on a trapper in the Yukon.

O'Neill admitted that Keane looked a bit like the normally unkempt media pack which he chided at the last squad announcement and that discipline might have to be administered.

"Well I must admit, I might well do because he looks really bedraggled. There is no doubt at all about it but I think he wants to join your group," he joked.

O'Neill kept it very light when asked about the fine detail of the book and so avoided being sucked in to any great degree.

"People say it is a distraction. There'll always be something coming up. If it wasn't the book, it would be something else. It's the nature of things. I haven't read it; you may well come back to me in 36 hours if I have a look at it and say it's a major distraction," he said ruefully.

Who knows? Maybe the next leak will be a withering look at Jogi Loew and the German media will go into meltdown.

One way or the other, O'Neill is wise keeping his head well down.

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