herald

Friday 21 September 2018

Master and apprentice

Understudy role gives Keane great opportunity to build for the future

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane give their views before a Champions League match. Picture credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane give their views before a Champions League match. Picture credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images

IT has been amusing to watch the scramble to put some meat on the bones of Martin O'Neill's imminent enthronement as Ireland senior manager with Roy Keane by his side.

The nitty gritty of Dermot Desmond's mediation and how O'Neill's wish to have Keane involved became a potential deal-breaker may emerge in the next week, but it's all background noise now.

But what is important is that when FAI CEO John Delaney was presented with the dilemma of whether he could work with a man he has been at loggerheads with for some considerable time, he decided that he could if it meant that Ireland got the best manager and the best management team.

That's a first step. It will have to work in practice but presumably, the next – Keane as full Ireland manager – is now a much greater possibility than it was before Delaney agreed to settle any differences he might have with the Corkman and move on.

If there is a long game in play, and men like Desmond and Denis O'Brien have made their fortunes from seeing the future more clearly than anyone else, this story could have another four or five years to run.

But the here-and-now and the next two years will occupy the minds of most Ireland football fans, and all anyone is really interested in now is how this arrangement is going to work.

On Thursday, 12 hours after the Herald broke the story that Keane was back in the mix and a week after we revealed that O'Neill had been offered the job while most other headlines pointed to Mick McCarthy, Ger Gilroy proclaimed on Newstalk that it was simply not possible to imagine Keane in a No 2 role.

Subservient

All Gilroy managed to do was to show how far off the mark he and many others were in tracking this story but, to be fair, it was a big reach if you didn't have any context, to imagine Keane in a subservient role to anyone.

Since then, there have been various attempts to interpret the logistics of how the two men would parcel out responsibilities, but trying to second-guess a brand-new management team is a ridiculous exercise given the fact that they have never worked together before and will have to feel their way through the first few months.

But they have spoken together at some length about how the partnership will work and, clearly, both men are satisfied that it is completely feasible.

Once the certainty of Keane's involvement was accepted, the commentary since has been remarkably juvenile.

Talk of time bombs, car crashes and other extreme and doom-laden images have characterised the coverage and people really ought to calm down.

The fundamentalists, opportunists and the big-mouth brigade on both sides of the Keane debate will be out in force again, dusting down old hackneyed bitterness which might remind them of their youth and make them feel powerful and alive again but serves no useful purpose right now.

This is a crossroads for football in Ireland and old grievances have no place in the future path we must walk if the country is not to end up as a third-rate backwater.

There is no hint as of yet that O'Neill or Keane will have a hands-on role in the day-to-day development of the game in the country and while it is attractive to think that they would, most supporters would be happy if they simply get the senior team playing football and winning football matches. Everything else flows from that.

The bottom line in all of this is that Martin O'Neill is the Ireland manager. Not Roy Keane, John Delaney, Denis O'Brien or Dermot Desmond.

His rule is law and if there is, for some unforeseen and as yet unfathomable reason, a falling out with Keane, it is in the way of things that the boss will exert his authority.

The really great thing about this appointment is that it offers Keane a chance to develop and to grow, without the primary responsibility for events resting on his shoulders.

Responsibility

He will be acting on O'Neill's instructions and while he is certain to want to offer his opinion, he will not be held accountable for it.

In that breathing space he can apply the vast football knowledge he has accumulated to the job of managing footballers but without the pressure of ultimate responsibility.

For those who couldn't even see Keane as a No 2, this is the key point. It was his only chance really. Alex Ferguson did his very best to make sure that any club owner looking at the Corkman as an option would think once, twice and then again before moving on to someone else.

As part of one of the most dynamic international management teams in Europe, he can create new headlines and, down the road, perhaps prove that he can be as great a manager as he was a player. That would be great indeed.

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