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Sunday 17 December 2017

ROY'S FOCUS ON IRELAND

Dual role was 'too much' for assistant boss

IT never rains but it pours. After a week of quite remarkable and unsettling events which left the FAI looking battered and bruised, Ireland No. 2 Roy Keane has handed in his cards at Aston Villa.

Keane has walked away from Villa Park and admitted that his attempt to hold down two jobs with Ireland and Aston Villa became too much for him.

"Ultimately, my roles with Villa and Ireland and combining my commitment to these have become too much," he said. "It isn't fair to either Villa or Ireland, so I've made this decision."

After a stormy end to the last international break during which Keane was clearly under enormous pressure, he ended up with questions to answer about his decision to have a go at Villa starlet Jack Grealish's father Kevin but there is no indication that this played any part in his decision to quit.

Nor is there any suggestion that Keane and Ireland boss Martin O'Neill sat down and spoke about events preceding the Euro 2016 qualifier which began with a scuffle in the team hotel foyer and ended with a stormy interview with journalists four days later.

Keane's temper rose when he was asked about the incident involving Frank Gillespie but by, then, he had already had a go at Everton over their attitude to international player release and Grealish's father.

O'Neill and the FAI were quick to back their man and with a four month gap to the next meaningful football. it was thought that this would allow the water to calm. But Keane, at least, has reached the conclusion that the effort to serve two masters was unsustainable.

"I'd like to thank Paul for giving me a great opportunity to come to a brilliant football club, I've really enjoyed my experiences at Villa and I wish the management team, the players, the supporters and the club nothing but the best going forward," he said.

Keane's decision appears to have caught Paul Lambert on the wrong foot and the news was delivered in an early morning meeting.

"Roy came to me this morning and he informed me that, ultimately, the difficulty of combining both roles has prompted his decision, which I respect totally," added Lambert.

REASONS

"In the brief period we have worked together he has been great in the role and I understand his reasons for leaving."

Villa won three of their first four league games this season, but failed to win any since then, picking up just two points in their last eight game. They are sixteenth in the Premier League table, just two points above the relegation zone.

CEO Tom Fox said: "We thank Roy for his time at the Club and we wish him the best with Ireland."

When Keane first took the Villa position, he assured O'Neill and Ireland fans that he would take a step back if he felt that his club work was impacting negatively on his position with the FAI.

"I feel that if I am taking my eye off the ball with Ireland, then I will leave Aston Villa," he said "There is no doubt about that.

"I have told Paul Lambert that, told Martin that and told the FAI that. But at the moment, it is OK. If we (Republic of Ireland) lose three or four on the spin, then I will leave Villa.

"But I'm still getting to games, I am on the training pitch at Villa, improving and am working with Irish lads like young Jack Grealish. The guilt would kill me if I thought: 'I am on a cushy one here.' I couldn't work that way."

Ireland's results are quite obviously not the problem here given the fact that O'Neill has gathered seven precious Euro 2016 qualification points.

Keane's impact on the Ireland set-up has been mostly positive but recent speculation suggested that the relentless flow of headlines centred on him since he was announced as the Ireland No. 2 has become a distraction for O'Neill and his players.

O'Neill claimed that he was fully behind Keane come what may but the recent spat with Everton and Keane's unhelpful remarks about Kevin Grealish must have given him pause for thought.

After beating the USA 4-1 at the Aviva, O'Neill said that he would have to speak with Roberto Martinez about James McCarthy, injured yet again last night during Everton's Europa League win over Wolfsburg.

He also claimed that he might have to have a chat with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright but at no point did he suggest that the most important words he would have would be with his No. 2 - perhaps the most important priority at the time.

Now, it certainly looks as if O'Neill and Keane discussed his workload and the string of distractions which have followed the Corkman around, and reached the conclusion that something had to give.

Where will it all end? From a high point last month in Gelsenkirchen when Ireland's Euro 2016 fortunes appeared to be significantly improved, it has been a rapid descent towards chaos in a welter of adverse publicity.

The current and deeply worrying headlines surrounding John Delaney followed on from Keane's own media fire-storm just a few weeks ago and his decision to quit Villa Park will probably come as a relief to the embattled FAI CEO.

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