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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Redemption on the cards for Martin

O'Neill is driven by chance to prove sceptics wrong

New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill speaking at his first press conference. Gibson Hotel, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill speaking at his first press conference. Gibson Hotel, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

IF Giovanni Trapattoni's day out was about old grandeur, sophistication and a double espresso in the RDS Library five years ago, this was tea and scones with a whiskey chaser.

An Italian legend's urbane presence amongst the splendour of a Victorian age left everyone wide-eyed, impressed and with no notion of the tedium which was to follow.

Boredom is not a word readily associated with Roy Keane, the wild element in O'Neill's plan and a singular soul distilled from a lifetime of glorious achievement and his own need to succeed. They are well matched.

O'Neill is a modern man with a homely twist and it was just about perfect that he should be displayed for approval in the Gibson Hotel, a glass palace built during the boom.

The entire Point Village complex is a testimony to Harry Crosbie's dream of what might be if the tired and broken old landscape which was the Dublin Docklands was viewed through new eyes.

So it is with the Ireland squad. O'Neill and Keane must reinterpret Trapattoni's work and lift a nation of football fans out of the torpor which stopped the Aviva turnstiles spinning.

Stability

They both come to the job in need of redemption and that will be the theme for the next two years. O'Neill is clearly driven to rehabilitate his reputation and Keane too has a job to do to convince a very sceptical world that he can approach anything with the kind of evenness and stability which has so far been absent during moments of confrontation.

Keane always seemed to look for trouble when he was a player and found it on and off the pitch. But in between those moments of high drama and accusation, he did many, many things right.

He did so much right that Alex Ferguson's legend grew exponentially and Ireland qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals.

But not for some people. It was sad and maddening to hear the roll call of inanity which many of Saturday's radio talk shows leaned on to fill time, feeding Tweets from the misinformed into the debate with a reverence out of all proportion to their content.

One gem which filtered through the wall of noise suggested Keane would "spoil it for everyone like he did in Saipan".

It is sad to think that eleven years on, an event which was as well-documented as any has ever been in this country should still be so badly misunderstood. Without Keane's strength and effort in the first place, there would have been no reason to travel to Saipan.

Mick McCarthy's extraordinary interview from a few days back was deeply revealing. He was a study in seething, stubborn resentment and personal devastation. It was an insight into his personality which showed how much Saipan was about a blunt force meeting an immovable object.

You had to sympathise. At every turn in his career, McCarthy has had to deal with Keane and this latest chapter is probably the most bitter.

McCarthy, too, is in search of redemption but he will likely never see it now. More galling than that, he may have to swallow hard again in two years' time if this experiment works and Keane takes on the task of managing Ireland himself – a job many feel he was born to do.

There have been handshakes and mutually kind words from both men in the years since Saipan but the rift is as big now as it ever was and will never be healed.

Boycott

But it is annoying to realise that there are still many people out there who continue to use the Saipan incident as a reason to boycott their national team. It's a badge of honour for them and filled with such enormous pomposity and foolishness.

These are people who declare with misty eyes that Ireland should be represented by a team taken from the League of Ireland and until that is the case, they will never darken the door of the Aviva Stadium again.

They must have very easy lives if they are able to drag such rage for Keane from their souls in the midst of a social environment which provides, on an hourly basis, more than enough new targets for angst and spleen venting.

Keane didn't cause austerity. Nor did he invite the IMF in, but you would swear he did listening to some of the outrage pouring forth.

The overriding feeling in the Gibson Hotel on Saturday was positive. O'Neill is charming, clever and carries a scalpel in his inside pocket.

He fielded every question with consummate ease and laughed off the suggestion that the hype surrounding Keane is a surprise to him and perhaps wasn't a part of the calculation he made when he decided that the Corkman was worth a punt.

It is a gamble, there is little doubt about that, but not as big as many feel. The sub-plot centred around Keane for the next two years is governed by the fact that this is his last chance.

If, for any reason, there is a blow-up which makes it past the confines of the team hotel and the dressing room, he is done as a manager.

Someone asked O'Neill whether he thought that Keane was making a brave choice to take on this role and it was the best question of the day.

O'Neill agreed and it may well be that this realisation played a big part in his decision to choose Keane as his assistant.

Keane is all in on this one. Depending on your viewpoint, it may be unfair or it may be perfectly reasonable that it should be this way but it is and he knows it.

If he gets this one wrong, who would employ him?

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