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Monday 5 December 2016

Realist Keane joins style debate

Roy admits Ireland have not kept the ball well for 30 years

Keane during squad training in Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile
Keane during squad training in Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manger Roy Keane at yesterday’s media conference. Photo: Sportsfile

There's an amount of soul-searching going on at the moment about Ireland's football and Roy Keane is never a bad man to tap into for an honest assessment.

Since the 2-2 draw in Belgrade, a decent away point celebrated by the pragmatic but heavily criticised for the performance, many different strands have come together to form the discussion.

At the core of the debate is a question. Why can't Ireland's senior international players keep the ball when they need to and use it well when they have it?

The subtext is about schoolboy football's rapid emasculation by Ruud Doktor's grand plan to hand all our best kids over to the League of Ireland, an entity which has singularly failed to look after itself properly for decades.

It's about the League of Ireland's ongoing struggle for survival, contrasted in such a surreal way by Dundalk's heroics and the disconnect between it and just about every other part of 'the football family'.

Warfare

It is also about the FAI's 'problem child' attitude to what should be the top of Ireland's football pyramid and years of open warfare between different affiliates at all levels.

But, fundamentally, this is about why many of our most talented footballers seem unable to pass and keep the ball for any length of time without panicking.

If you listen to Keane and indeed Richard Dunne before him, there has been a problem with retaining possession for 30 years and not just in the senior international team.

"I think Irish teams, I would like to think, could have been retaining the ball better for the last 30 years, not just three months," said Keane, sharpening the focus of the argument immediately.

"It is a big problem in the game for us.

"It's not just the senior teams, I'm going back to when I was involved in the underage teams. We have always found it difficult to keep the ball.

"Look the criticism you take with a pinch of salt, just as you take the plaudits with a pinch of salt, because it is a game of opinions and people want to say we could have done better in possession against Serbia, then I probably wouldn't disagree with them."

Asked whether the rot set in during Jack Charlton's time, Keane wasn't sure.

"I don't know about Jack changing it. I don't really know how Ireland played before that. It might be longer, it might be less."

Has he figured out why Ireland struggle in possession?

"The quality of the players maybe, looking after the ball? Having said that, I played with some really good players for Ireland and I don't remember ever keeping the ball that great.

"I could be wrong and someone might remind me, but I don't ever remember having 60pc or 70pc possession away from home and absolutely hammering a team.

"My experience with Jack and Mick (McCarthy) and Brian Kerr? I don't think we kept the ball very well.

"You say about the DNA, if the DNA is to show fight and heart and grit then that is a nice DNA to have."

It can't really be about football DNA which hard-wires a genetic need to lump the ball long.

Dundalk are demonstrating brilliantly that Irish players can play a more fluent game, but Keane and Martin O'Neill must be pragmatic.

"We are working on the players. It depends what they are doing at club level. You'll get decent possession at Bournemouth and Derby.

"Can we keep the ball? Our style will never be 60 passes between our two centre-halves. Get the ball in the box and score goals.

"You can talk about the things we don't do well, but when you think about the things we do well, the honesty of the players, the desire, bits of quality, two goals away from home, whatever way you look at it, is never an easy thing to do.

"Against Serbia, who are no mugs, that was good. If we went away to a lesser team, and got battered, then that would be different.

"Everyone still loves watching Barcelona and Brazil and, of course, it would be great if we could just keep the ball and everyone was comfortable in possession and wear teams down and pick holes in them and get balls down the side of people and have that bit of magic.

"But we're also there to win football matches. It's a balancing act. That's the key," said Keane.

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