Friday 19 January 2018

Roy enjoying Irish role

Assistant Keane looks like a changed man as Ireland start qualifiers

Roy Keane appears to be really enjoying his Ireland role. Photo: Sportsfile
Roy Keane appears to be really enjoying his Ireland role. Photo: Sportsfile
Roy Keane had a previous reputation for being a bit hot headed. Photo: Sportsfile

Anyone who fancied a wager on Roy Keane staying the course for four years as Ireland's No 2 would be sitting on a nice return now. The odds were long.

Depending on which side of the Keane debate you're on, the rationale behind the assumption that his stay would be short is easy to explain.

His fans reckoned that it was only a matter of time before a chairman in England decided he liked what Keane had to offer, and he would then quit for a club job.

His detractors thought that the mercurial Corkman would come and go after a spell in a cloud of red mist. The fact that he is still here says a lot about Martin O'Neill and the capacity contained in football for redemption.

Apart from one or two cranky moments this year, Keane seems to have had a great time.

He had some fairly hefty headline moments in the first 12 months of his time helping to guide Ireland, rather than driving the team as he did as a player, and there were times when you wondered if Keane's critics had it right.

But throughout the build-up to the Euro 2016 finals - and, indeed, in Versailles, where the team was based - it was often Keane who stepped in front of the cameras to take the heat off his boss.

After the Opera House fiasco and the rush job in announcing that O'Neill had agreed a deal with the FAI on a handshake, it was Keane who issued the call to arms for Ireland's players and sounded all the right motivational notes while the manager hugged the shadows.

He was at it again yesterday, cutting through cliches and "nonsense", as he described a few questions, suggesting that some were living in "cuckoo land", so foolish were the queries.

He still has it in him to nail you to the wall with his dark stare, but a twinkle is rarely far from his eye these days and his brief show of impatience could not hide the fact that this man is very happy in his job.


Sure, he would have jumped at the right offer in the summer - if the right offer had materialised - but his role with Ireland is clearly fulfilling enough to allow him to long-finger his move back into full-time club management.

And he could yet make the move. Give it a couple of months and the first few managerial casualties and we could find ourselves waving goodbye to Keane and wishing him luck.

For now, he travels with Ireland and, as usual, he focused minds on the task at hand - namely Serbia. France? That's so last century.

"It's come around quick after France but that's history. It could be 100 years ago," said Keane. "This is a new challenge, a new group with new faces. Obviously, one or two lads have left, but it's all good. That's the game we're in."

The high-profile departure of Robbie Keane in midweek and Shay Given's exit have ripped a huge chunk of nous out of the squad, but Keane thinks Ireland can cope and there won't be any rash selections made.

Certainly, anyone who thought that early-season form in the lower divisions in England from young lads like Eoghan O'Donnell and Callum O'Dowda would mean a fast track into the team needs a reality check.

"I know people are discussing that we were the oldest team in France, but we've got a lot of experienced lads," he added. "I suppose the other side of it now is people talking about young lads coming through.

"The beauty is that lads involved now will not be looking to give up their places without a fight.

"It's all well and good talking about new faces coming through, and some of the younger players from the Under 21s, but you've got to work to get into the group.

"I don't think the manager is looking to reward players by getting into the senior team when they haven't kicked a ball yet, you know. You've got to fight for places.

"We're still waiting for one or two players from the Under 21s to kick on, despite them building reputations.


"These players have got to go and earn it. We're not going to be picking young players for the Irish senior team because they've built a reputation."

Those words should be of particular interest to Jack Byrne and any of the other young Irish players in England hoping to break through.

France formed bonds within the group which will not be easily broken. To get into the team, indeed the squad, will require something more substantial than self confidence and a few videos on Youtube.

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