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Friday 15 December 2017

Keane: 'Let's get to Wales in good spirits'

No celebration of Bale injury for Roy as he looks for an Irish 'fox in the box'

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane speaks during yesterday’s press conference at the FAI National Training Centre
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane speaks during yesterday’s press conference at the FAI National Training Centre

There is some building work going on in the hotel on Dublin's northside which is home to the senior international team when they are in town.

If there was any noise coming from the building in the last 24 hours, it was not - according to Roy Keane at least - the sound of Irish players whooping and hollering at the news from Wales that Gareth Bale was out of their squad for the next two games, including Monday's Wales-Ireland clash in Cardiff.

Keane, as usual, had a few targets when he spoke to the media in the build-up to the Moldova game on Friday: Everton and their medical staff; the brittle nature of the modern sportsman as Keane, asked to speak about the concussion injuries which forced Kevin Doyle to retire at the age of 33, said players unwilling to take physical risks should take up chess.

But the Ireland assistant manager made it clear that his players should not get distracted by the outside noise, be that the absence of Bale through injury or the fans demanding a comfy home win over Moldova on Friday, or even the dreaded prospect of Ireland finishing second in the group table but missing out on a playoff place.

Dramatic

"It's important you don't get distracted. It does happen at club level," says Keane, recalling the dramatic end of the 1994/95 Premier League season.

"In my experience at United, we went to West Ham: 'If we draw, and Blackburn lose, or if we win and they draw'.

"Let's win the couple of games and then have that discussion. We're not in a position to control what might creep into the players' mindset: about Bale being missing, two wins mightn't be enough… Let's win on Friday night and get to Wales in good spirits."

But Bale's absence does not weigh on Keane's mind. "I don't think that it makes it any easier for us to win our two matches. If that answers your question," he said.

"This idea of a buzz and that we were going around knocking each other's doors and hugging each other! Jaysus," Keane said with a puzzled look.

"I think Wales got results before without Bale. Did he miss Serbia and miss one or two games and they got results?

Sean Maguire during squad training
Sean Maguire during squad training

"I always think that if you want players to be missing in public then you are being very disrespectful to other players by saying 'oh Bale's missing'. "Listen, Wales have some decent players. This idea that there is some sort of buzz around, I think you are way off the mark with that."

There is work to be done on the training ground this week, like bedding in new players (at least one of the uncapped trio of Scott Hogan, Seán Maguire and Aiden O'Brien could feature), preparing the relatively inexperiended midfielders like Conor Hourihane, Callum O'Dowda and Eunan O'Kane for a possible starting role in a must-win game, and lifting spirits after some flat displays.

"This gives other lads an opportunity to come and stake a claim for themselves, whether it would be O'Dowda or these boys, Hourihane seems to be doing a bit better at Villa. We've got some new lads in the squad. So they're all the challenges we face," says Keane.

Tackle

"And I think we can help the players with their decision-making. Even with the stuff they do at club level - like last weekend we saw James McClean's tackle, I think he did get a touch on the ball but those are the examples of when you would take James aside and say, 'stay on your feet there James and show him down the line'.

"We have seen James make challenges before for Ireland where you are going, 'ah maybe'. Listen, I am a fine one to talk about challenges," added Keane with a grin.

"We are here to help them and get certain things right but ultimately with a player, when they are on the ball, that is where football intelligence comes into it. And when you are on the sideline and you see the player cross it when they should take a touch, or touch it when they should cross it first time, that is when you hope the players will learn themselves."

One area where the manager and his staff need improvement is finishing, with just two goals scored in four home qualifiers.

"The friendly against Iceland, you are looking at balls breaking and you want somebody just to lash one in, a deflection or whatever. And I just don't think we have had that over the last couple of games," added Keane.

"So it is not just the Serbia game. The Georgia game, balls going into the box, you want someone who is a goalscorer, who has that knack. And if you look at their track record, Maguire and Hogan, you know that at whatever level they have played, they do know where the back of the net is. And we have just not had someone of that nature.

"Sometimes you need that fox in the box. They have got that, certainly Maguire and Scott. They have that in their DNA? Now whether they can go and produce it at international level, it is easier said and done."

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