Thursday 14 December 2017

Warrior Roy wants bodies on the line

Ireland No 2 sets the tone for pivotal clash with Austria

Ireland assistant coach Roy Keane fields questions from the media at Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile
Ireland assistant coach Roy Keane fields questions from the media at Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile

This time last year when Martin O'Neill was embroiled in the furore surrounding his Cork Opera House appearance, Roy Keane stepped into the centre of the stage and took a few rounds for the gaffer.

While O'Neill retreated from the media in the aftermath, slightly nonplussed by the nature of our nation in the run-up to big tournament finals and wishing fervently that he had kept his mouth shut on social matters, Keane came into his own.

On a couple of occasions in the Ireland training centre in Versailles, Keane gave us some old-fashioned rabble-rousing and it was badly needed. It seems to have become his job and he did it again yesterday. We're going to war with Austria.

Of course we're not but Keane enjoys the theatre of football and understands everybody's role. The hint of gun-smoke always makes for a better storyline.

"We want players to go to war," he said, and boom: instant headline.

"People have died for their country, all we're asking is that they put their bodies on the line to try and win a game," he said, and hearts lifted.

O'Neill doesn't mind all of this stuff. He doesn't do it so well himself and while all the attention is on Keane, he can hunker down and make the calls he needs to win the battle his assistant wants to fight.

It's all part of his jigsaw and the sign of a confident man that he would let someone as charismatic as Keane hog the limelight on a regular basis.

Later, Keane tempered the rhetoric with a jarring statement of truth when it was put to him that Austria, apparently in disarray, are there to be beaten.

"We are nowhere near good enough to think that we can approach an international against a team that has a good record and with really good players, a manager under so-called pressure. Everyone is under pressure - the pressure is to win.

"We cannot be under any illusions that we don't have to be at our best. We can be at our best in a lot of football matches and still not get a result.

"No, you can't think like that. This game kicks you in the teeth. I don't ever remember with Ireland having any sort of easy game, even against the so-called minnows of world football.

"We've always found it hard to win football matches and that will be the same on Sunday.

"And I think Austria will be enjoying, as you would if you were in their camp, that people are writing them off. How can we afford to write anybody off?

"They have got some good players and probably should have nicked a draw against us in Vienna with the last kick of the game.

"Don't worry about the players who are not there - we are missing a few players."

Keane's focus on those present has become more acute each day and he liked what he saw in training yesterday. There was an edge which even spawned gossip about some "tasty" exchanges.

Keane used the word wearing a small grin. "I expected it. I'd be worried if there wasn't a bit of edge in training today. That's what you want.

"Obviously, you want to peak on Sunday but there was a nice feeling to training. Just players on the edge with some of the stuff we were doing. It was good.

"I have good belief in these players that they will certainly not shy away from what's in front of them, whatever that might be - whether it's from good possession, if we're under the cosh, can we find different ways to win the football match?" said Keane.

"Your mindset going into every game of football has to be can you win it? If you can't win it, don't bloody lose it.

"At some stage in your campaign, you do have to get a couple of wins under your belt. With Wales, we weren't quite at it. Tough game, emotionally. Physically, you lick your wounds after the game, take your point and move on.

"At some stage if you want to qualify for big tournaments, like we did in the last campaign, you do have to win a few football matches."

The intention tomorrow is to try and win a game. Does it guarantee a play-off or qualification?

"Absolutely not, because there's more tough games coming around.

"I'm sure we'll have the same conversation the next time around but I know from the manager's point of view, all the staff. Try and win.

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