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O'Neill gives backing to Keane

MARTIN O'Neill will have enjoyed the short flight from Dublin to Glasgow today as that hour-long trip offered the Derry man the only respite he will get for the frenetic next 48 hours.

The sky has not quite fallen in on O'Neill but events in the space of a few hours has made tomorrow's task in Glasgow even more tricky.

And the fact that O'Neill today, on the morning of a very busy day which involves training in Dublin, a flight to Scotland, a press conference and a training session at Parkhead later this evening, had to sit down and issue a video statement in support of his assistant manager is nothing less than a major distraction.

This morning, the FAI confirmed what fans had feared all week: that James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan would not be fit for the clash with Scotland and that they were returning to their clubs for treatment.

But O'Neill will not have had a restful night before this morning's training session and that medical bulletin as a story concerning his assistant manager dominated the airwaves, social media and the talk in pubs and sitting rooms across the country last night. Not for the first time, the words 'Roy Keane' sent twitter into flames as fans back in Ireland and the Irish soccer press corps - the bulk of whom were already in Glasgow when the story broke - tried to piece together what had happened.

The FAI were forced into issuing a statement, which accepted that Roy Keane had been involved in an incident at the team's hotel in Portmarnock and that Gardaí had been involved.

"Following inaccurate media reports which refer to an incident involving a member of the public this evening at the Republic of Ireland team hotel, we wish to clarify that Roy Keane called the Gardaí following the incident. The manager, Martin O'Neill and the FAI are fully aware of the circumstances surrounding this event, and the assistant manager has their full support," said an FAI statement issued just after 11pm last night.


This morning the FAI acted again as their media department issued to the media a statement on video from O'Neill.

"The FAI and I have been fully briefed about the circumstances of what happened at the team hotel last night. Roy asked that the Gardai be called and he has notified them of what happened. While this process is ongoing we are unable to say more at this point," O'Neill said.

"However I can say that, having been made aware of the facts, Roy has both my full support and the support of the FAI and John Delaney. We are now focused, as we have been all week, on the game in hand and we won't be saying anything more about this issue." Reports of what actually happened are still coming in and there are some conflicting claims, but it's assumed now that the altercation between Keane and a member of the public involved his book.

It's claimed that a fan approached Keane and asked him to sign a copy of Keane's autobiography, Keane declined and the fan reacted negatively to what he saw as a snub. In the ensuing melee, the fan ended up on the ground and later received treatment from a paramedic crew. Initial reports that Keane could even be forced to miss the trip to Glasgow to answer questions from Gardaí today were well wide of the mark as Keane attended this morning's training session in Malahide and was also on the lunchtime flight to Scotland.

But the story has grown legs and reached across the water, with one report that Gordon Strachan personally updated his Scotland backroom team on the tale at their meeting before training at Parkhead this morning, Strachan smiling at the idea of turmoil in the opposing camp on the eve of a massive European Championship qualifier.

The withdrawal of McCarthy and Whelan were expected. Few believed that one of that pair, let alone both, would be fit to face the Scots and O'Neill will have been working away on a midfield formation which took into account their absence. But the Keane issue is the last thing O'Neill wanted on his plate before one of the biggest games in the qualifying campaign.

It has to be made clear that Keane was an innocent party in last night's drama. Some fans will today query the FAI's security policy especially as this is the third incident to occur at their team hotel in a decade, following an armed robbery while the team were on the premises (2003) and when then-manager Steve Staunton was threatened with an imitation gun by a member of the public (2006).

But the hotel is open to the public and until the day when the FAI build their own training centre with accommodation for players and staff, punters will be able to mingle, and indeed many players would not want to live in a fenced-off ivory tower where they would not be able to meet with family and friends.

But in any event, Roy Keane has again made headlines and dominated the agenda like no other assistant manager of the 53 other UEFA nations this week. As O'Neill says, there's always something with Roy Keane.