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Saturday 16 December 2017

Paul Hyland: Fota Island is as far from Saipan as Roy can get

Time and the over-riding requirement for pragmatism which management brings have educated Keane Photo: Sportsfile
Time and the over-riding requirement for pragmatism which management brings have educated Keane Photo: Sportsfile

If Saipan did nothing else, it provided two generations of headline writers with some excellent fall-back phraseology to use in the event of a football calamity.

You don't even have to go further than the word itself. Stick 'Saipan' on top of any kind of football related content and everyone knows what's coming.

By far the best and most accessible sound bite used in the middle of it all was Roy Keane's Yoda moment.

"Fail to prepare, prepare to fail," he said and a nation of slackers sucked in a breath. The other half, the kind of people running laps for Operation Transformation, nodded their heads and bought Keano's line.

How could it be wrong, especially when the pearl of wisdom was dropped with all the nasal certainty contained in a Cork accent?

But seriously, how could it be wrong to prepare as well as possible for what could be the biggest event in your life? He was right to demand high standards and should never be faulted for that.

Persona

Keane's persona is built on his belief that nothing is achievable without suffering. Graft is a given and deadly when coupled with a diamond-hard hunger and will to win.

Time and the over-riding requirement for pragmatism which management brings have educated Keane and his spell at Martin O'Neill's side has shown him a way of turning water into wine without shouting at the restaurant owner. The FAI learned a bitter lesson in 2002, and Keane too. The 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail' message was on the money but the delivery method was poor.

Hard to imagine that either party would make the same mistake again.

With that in mind, when you take a look at the reasonably sketchy outline of Ireland's pre-Euro 2016 preparation, you would have to wonder whether they've all eased back just a little bit too much.

O'Neill has been peppered with stories of Montecatini and how Ireland's best footballers became part of a royal parade which had Giovanni Trapattoni as its Grand Marshal. The narrative goes that the players were worked to within an inch of their lives and whiled away the hours in between sweat-soaked training sessions as best they could while the boss and his wing man Marco Tardelli sat in the town square listening to local worthies tell them how wonderful they were.

The players worked very hard and Trapattoni was feted everywhere he went. It was very entertaining, indeed, but not if you were watching from your hotel window.

Still, there was no real inkling of any problems until Aiden McGeady finally broke ranks minutes after a very flat performance in the final warm-up friendly against Hungary in Budapest and told reporters that he needed a rest - that the squad had been worked too hard in Italy.

It was a telling outburst from McGeady and went against the rigorous discipline imposed by Trapattoni who hindsight tells us wanted to micro-manage his players down to excluding mushrooms from their diet.

"No mush-e-rooms," he would shout, his face contorted in horror. "No mush-e-rooms ever for my players".

McGeady's decision to stray from the plot was important because it came from him. He is not a man for idle chit-chat and he usually means what he says.

The 0-0 draw in Budapest was the precursor to even flatter and ultimately shoddy performances in the tournament proper in Poland.

Trapattoni blamed his players after every defeat and took no responsibility for the disaster.

To a man, the same players have kept quiet about what went on in the three weeks before the Euro 2012 finals began and showed considerably more dignity than their manager who pocketed another million or two before he finally detached himself from the FAI.

It is a fine thing, preparation. What Keane raged about in Saipan were the basics. Kit, footballs and suncream but what he was really fuming about was the attitude he has railed against all his life - the 'it will do' consensus.

This time, from what he has already said, O''Neill is worried about over-preparing the players and Montecatini has definitely coloured his view on that.

But a run around against Holland and five days on Fota Island before a long break and then a flight to Paris looks a bit thin. No acclimatisation to what will likely be hot conditions, unless we're very lucky and no game in the two weeks before the Euro 2016 opener against Sweden in the Stade de France.

Belgium, Italy and Sweden have found a game to play in between and have managers who believe it necessary. All three have chosen opposition which is clearly designed to prepare for Ireland.

Belgium play Norway, Sweden meet Wales on June 5 and Italy have a friendly against Finland a day later.

After Ireland play Slovakia on March 29, O'Neill will have just one game against Holland on May 27 to finalise his plans unless something else emerges in the meantime.

Families

O'Neill and Keane will have the players together for eight days at Easter and in the week before Holland. After a five-day spell in Fota, they go off to their families. "That way I won't have any of them coming to me and complaining that they can't see their families," said O'Neill last week.

Because of the staggered end to the season and the fact that some will finish playing before others, the job of bringing all together at the same time and in the same physical condition is fiendishly difficult. But perhaps he has heard too much about Montecatini and allowed a gap in the schedule to appear. Bad to be over-prepared, worse to be under-cooked.

At least there is one big winner in of all in this. The FAI's bank balance will appreciate the relatively low cost incurred by five days on Fota.

It certainly won't strain the purse or the nerves in quite the same way as a week in Tuscany or a long haul to Saipan.

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