Tuesday 16 January 2018

Keane calls for players to step up into leadership roles

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during a mixed zone. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during a mixed zone. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin

AAAAH! Blessed peace. Daffodils are in bloom, small birds race around the sky on urgent business and a lick of a smile is once again flickering across Roy Keane’s face. We’re talking about football and he’s in a happy place.

There’s still a bit of a run to go before Poland and we’re only a tweet or an Instagram away from another deluge of Keane related headlines but as reported yesterday, everything is fine in the camp.

The man himself looks well and during an intense bout of media duties, he tried hard not to crack a smile but the effort got the better of him a few times and even old friends/enemies were graced with a tiny grin.

The last time many of us were asking him questions it didn’t go so well and much water had travelled under many bridges since.

But on this occasion, we were talking about football and it always the subject he is most at ease with.

The one consequence of Keane’s regular forays into the wrong end of the media food chain is that his boss, Martin O’Neill, has slipped under the radar.

Whether by intent or design, Keane’s regular squad related media appearances have become the main source of inspirational headlines during meandering preparation periods  which are a feature of Uefa’s new week long fixture format.

This time, Keane was restrained but still offered a few motivational goads. When asked whether it was time for Shane Long, James McCarthy and lads like them to step into leadership roles, he was happy to apply a small jolt of electricity.

“There are players in the squad you’d be looking at and thinking ‘you need to perform, you need to step up’ and hopefully they’ll do that,” said Keane.

Leadership came to Keane as easily as breathing but he underlined the fact that some take longer than others to adjust to international football.

“Players peak at international level at different times. Some lads hit the ground running, some take 10 or 20 caps. I felt it took me 20 odd games to find my feet at international level even though I was playing at a decent level at club level.

“But we might need one player to lash one in from 30 yards as well. I think there might be one or two lads, whether it be a Robbie Brady free or Robbie Keane. We keep saying that we rely on Robbie to score goals but it’s time for other players to step up.”

Indeed it is. Long over time in some cases.

Keane’s eyes dance at the mention of Séamus Coleman as one candidate for a long range thunderbolt should the occasion demand.

“If Séamus starts ... then for a full-back he can be a goal threat. He can get us up the pitch.

“I wouldn’t be arguing too much if he got the winner on Sunday, or anybody to score. John O’Shea got the goal in Germany and we weren’t complaining too much.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on Robbie over the years and he’s kept producing, it’s up to other players to help him out.

“It’s as good a time as any. For a start the atmosphere will be a fantastic, it’s a sell-out. Poland are coming here a very strong team. They’ll have a massive support behind them.”

“We’ve had the disappointment of the last result so you look at the players and say ‘it’s time to step up now and show what you’re about’.

“It can be difficult for the coaching staff or the manager. A lot of things can be out of your control but we just have to make sure that physically they’re ready and we leave nothing behind.”

“Your attitude before you go into any game of football is you want to win the game. Nobody ever goes in saying they want a draw.”

“Afterwards you might think a draw wasn’t that bad. We can’t afford to lose it but trust me, the manager’s attitude is that we’re going to try to win every game of football. That’s in our DNA.”

Keane was reassuring about concerns surrounding match fitness and the fact that many of Ireland’s players have been inactive too often this season.

“I wouldn’t be worried about their lack of football. You’ve got to trust the players to a certain degree. The argument  is that players play too much football, so you can’t win. Either they’re playing too much or not enough, I wouldn’t over-analyse all that side of it.

“All we can gauge is when they’re here with us and, as usual, they’ve trained no problem. The ones who haven’t trained like James (McClean), Wardy and Gibbo, there would obviously be a question mark over them.

“But we’ve a few days to play with yet. People talk about medical staff, scans and you get sick to your back teeth of it. You just think the players have got to know their own bodies and what they’re capable of doing. The experienced lad? We’ve got to trust them and the feedback they give us.”

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