ROY Keane prowled the perimeter of Ireland’s training space, hand stroking chin and obviously a man with much to think about. This time of the year seems to do that to him.
It had been noted in a quiet sort of way that we are in that sort of period which will always be remembered for events in Saipan but nobody seemed too bothered this year.
Instead of an annual appearance accompanied by cute golden labradors, Keane walked among us with a grin and a smile and seemed at ease for the first time in many moons. It’s been a long time since he’s had so many Irish people around him, seven years or so.
But now, the old tribal war drums are beating. Words like betrayal will be fired around in the coming weeks if he does take the Celtic job - or one of the others Martin O’Neill believes are open to him.
The FAI had nothing whatsoever to say last night but there would be a huge sense of disappointment if he decided to jump ship.
That said, Keane has mended many fences in the last six months merely by being here and the possibility that he would one day take up the Ireland job himself should still be regarded as a good bet.
But O’Neill, caught between Celtic and Ireland, wants him to hang around for this full two-year trip.
“I would like him to stay here for every reason under the sun. I think it would be great.
“He is thinking things over, including a couple of other offers as well,” said the Ireland boss.
O’Neill wasn’t expecting this so soon, that is very clear and he seems a tad overwhelmed by the intense searchlight which follows Keane and not just in this country.
But you sensed in his declaration that he would fight hard to keep Keane that he feels that the battle may be lost. Perhaps not with Celtic but sooner rather than later.
Keane himself seemed to put the whole matter to bed last week when he spoke the press and told them “I’ve got a job”.
But few listening believed that at some point in the future, he would have a different answer.
Whether he gives Celtic a different answer or whether they will even ask the question remains to be seen.
“Following speculation concerning the manager’s position at Celtic, the club can confirm that it is currently continuing its discussions with a number of excellent candidates.
“We will continue this process and select who we regard as the best appointment for Celtic. We will update our supporters as soon as this process is complete.”
So read the statement issued by Celtic last night and although Keane has been all but anointed by the bookmakers, names like Owen Coyle and Malky Makay are still lurking in the background.
What we know as a matter of certainty is that Dermot Desmond phoned O’Neill on Wednesday night and asked him for his assessment of Keane as a managerial candidate. After that, O’Neill spoke with Keane and presumably, had words again last night.
“I’ve had a conversation. I’ve had chats with him. We had a chat in the morning. The call with Dermot took place last night (Wednesday). I’ll speak to him again and he’ll keep me in the loop the whole way through,” added O’Neill.
“I know Dermot, he was the one that made me the manager at Celtic. I know him a long time, naturally, I just think that he was asking me in a general point about Roy’s managerial quality. I’ve often said he would be a manager but didn’t know it would happen so quickly.”
“They (Celtic) do have a list of people they are speaking to and you never know. maybe they might speak to someone else.”
“He wouldn’t take it lightly. He loves it here, genuinely loves it here. It’s been great for him.
“He has said it to me said to me over the course of time and emphasised it, he loves it.
“It’s been great for him. I hate to use the word rehabilitation in the country but it’s been great for him.
“He’s enjoyed the role and I think the age distance between the two us kind of suits him as well, there’s a goodly distance between us.
“Working with the players, going to the football games, he never gets fed up with that. It has been really good for him and I’m sure he will be giving all of these things consideration.”
Asked whether Keane would still be going on the USA trip next week, O’Neill parked the matter.
“I think we’ll take it step by step at this moment. Things can develop very, very quickly or slowly, but I expect him to be there for the game coming up against Italy.”
Would he give him his blessing if he is offered the job at Celtic?
“It’s a very good point that, depending on how you deal with blessing’. I would be disappointed, obviously, if he’s gone, but a club like Celtic is a very, very big club and maybe sometimes those particular offers might not come around too often.
“I kind of felt when I took him in the first place over the course of next 18 months or two years that this thing is likely to happen.
“He was going right back into high profile again. Perhaps I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly,” added O’Neill.