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Monday 11 December 2017

Roy Keane is still fighting the good fight - even if it's with himself

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, during squad training ahead of their UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifer, Group D, game against Gibraltar on Saturday (David Maher / SPORTSFILE)
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, during squad training ahead of their UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifer, Group D, game against Gibraltar on Saturday (David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

On the eve of the publication of Roy Keane's new biography, it's worth acknowledging how for decades the feuding of two strong characters in Manchester captured the public imagination and had observers eagerly awaiting their next spleenful exchange.

Sadly, the public spat between Ken Barlow and Mike Baldwin ended when the Coronation Street scriptwriters killed off Baldwin in a manner befitting a classical Greek tragedy. Suffering from dementia, he suffered a massive heart attack and was found on the street by his old adversary. He died in Barlow's arms.

When Roy Keane's new biography inadvertently landed on a Manchester supermarket shelf three days before its official launch in Dublin, fans eagerly scanned the Roddy Doyle-ghosted text for further evidence that Keane has not mellowed with age. Would Keane and and his former boss Alex Ferguson once again lock horns like rutting stags?

By yesterday evening social media had lit up with litanies of Roy's waspish comments.

Former team-mates, club associates and TV commentators get to experience the venom in Keane's tongue. For some it's no more than a sarcastic dig. For others it's studs up.

For a guy who's earning his crust as assistant manager at Aston Villa, the media storm that has greeted his latest baleful revelations is more akin to the attention paid to some of the world's most glamorous and highest-paid celebrities.

But Roy has always been bad boy box-office.

Particularly to us Irish, where one-third of the population view the Corkman as the footballing equivalent of Michael Collins. Another third have him on a par with Diarmait na nGall, the man who brought the Normans to Ireland. And then there's at least a third of the population who couldn't care less.

Marvellous inspirational footballer that he was, it may well be that Roy's greatest triumph is that he remains both newsworthy and employable.

Three years ago, when the League Managers Association held a gala banquet at a London hotel to mark the occasion of Alex Ferguson having managed more than 2,000 professional games, the man of the moment surveyed those present, managers and former managers, retired players and erstwhile pundits, and joshingly called them "coffin dodgers."

DIFFICULT

The reality of life after football can often prove difficult and barren for many who displayed talent on the pitch.

For most, survival in the wider football industry is a small victory.

Finding it difficult to cope as manager of Premier League side Sunderland, Keane walked away. Life in charge of the lower Championship side Ipswich Town ended ignominiously with Roy getting sacked after just 81 matches.

Today, media attention is once again on Roy and his views on personalities and matters from more than a decade ago. Not on his club Aston Villa or on Martin O'Neill's Ireland's upcoming European Championship qualifiers, where Roy's talents are being utilised as assistant to the manager.

Younger players look to Keane's footballing record for inspiration. Few, if any, imagine that they might one day end up, like Kenny Cunningham or others, as the butt of a Roy Keane sneer in yet another barrel-scraping memoir.

Given his background as a one-time law student, Martin O'Neill is sure to be conscious of the potential disruptive impact of Roy's friendly fire.

To some it may only be tittle-tattle but as Patrick Kavanagh once said of Homer's ghost, "I made the Iliad from such a local row."

Be it Cuchulainn and Ferdia or Achilles and Hector, the spat between those titans of Old Trafford, Roy Keane and his former manager Alex Ferguson, is likely to be ratcheted up another notch tomorrow night when the Manchester United ambassador addresses the Dublin Chamber of Commerce dinner.

It may be that Ferguson, who's soon to add to his repertoire of biographies, hasn't noticed Roy's remarks. You'd reckon Fergie's used to being called "driven and ruthless" and even lacking warmth.

But assertions that Manchester United suffered as a result of Fergie getting involved in a legal dispute over a racehorse that Keane claims he'd warned against seems designed to catch Ferguson's attention.

Having a former disgruntled player claim, as Keane does, that Fergie was regarded as "just a mascot" by some individuals in the racing world might not pass without comment.

It's over eight years since Keane played football. And that's what folk remember. A fiercesome player who embodied the concept of wholehearted, full-blooded commitment.

His memories, while entertaining for many of his admirers, are likely to alienate others who believe that loyalty to club and country comes before public criticism that might reflect badly on the institutions.

But even his critics will admit that Keane also flagellates himself. He paints himself as a flawed individual.

regrets

In The Second Half, he admits he regrets being too scared to accept the challenge of playing for Real Madrid, opting instead for a cushier stint with Glasgow Celtic, where his legendary status would be readily enshrined.

It takes a big man to admit, as Keane does, that his tantrums in Saipan, when he parted company with Mick McCarthy's Ireland squad on the eve of the World Cup, weren't the stuff of a real champion. "Saipan and the World Cup, ultimately I lost." he writes.

Keane owns up to not being perfect. He drank heavily when younger and admits his failure to control his rages have been counter-productive.

He's a family man who does work for charity. When photographed with the puppies who are to become guide dogs for the blind, he appears a well-rounded individual. Yet, Roy describes himself as "a time-bomb."

"There's a self-destruct button," he insists. It would appear Keane is still fighting the good fight, even if it's with himself. And, you know, maybe that's why we still find old grey beard so fascinating.

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