Roy Keane: You are not therapists to me
'My job is to motivate players and get them to a new level
Ready for lift-off. With a new contract tucked in the back pocket. Ireland arrive in France today and, with a smile, Roy Keane jokes that he will already be ahead of his last major competition experience when he lands in the host country.
"I'm just glad to be making it to the tournament," he said. "Usually I miss out on these things. I still have a few days to play with so I'll just be glad to be there; I'll just be cheering that I've made the first game."
The assistant manager's final media outing before departure was more about levity than brevity.
It turned out that the news of the day would be coming a couple of hours later with the announcement that Martin O'Neill, Keane and the rest of the management team would be staying around for the World Cup campaign. In that sense, the FAI had an ace up their sleeve.
Keane gave nothing away. For once, his future wasn't really discussed. The burning issue was the fact that he had cut members of the squad down last week with withering comments that posed questions about the personality he will adopt during this getaway. There will always be a Saipan segue.
But if that incident raised fears about instability, the subsequent revelation he has committed to sticking around with O'Neill - although club speculation remains inevitable - paints the picture of a happy camp.
In truth, his criticism of Aiden McGeady, Jeff Hendrick and the other players who toiled against Belarus was out of sync with the general tone of his comments over the past 12 months. O'Neill said on Monday that his No 2 went too far and Keane admitted as much without going into the details of any discussions.
"If I think I've gone over the top on certain things, I will apologise," he says. "I've no problem with that.
"If you think afterwards, 'Oh well, that might have been harsh', I've done it before. I've pulled players in at Sunderland and at Ipswich. I remember it like it was yesterday. Pulling a few young players in that we had on loan from Tottenham. I was really hard on them in training and I pulled them in afterwards and I said, 'I was over the top' and they were fine.
"Sometimes you get messages out here and you try to find different ways to motivate people. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. People on the outside might take it up the wrong way. If I feel I have crossed that line with anything - it doesn't have to be in football, it can be away from football - then you have a word with people. It certainly happens when you are married to somebody. I'm sure everyone can identify with that. My job is to motivate players, to push people and try and get them to another level. That will never change. I'm sick of saying it but I have been like that since I was a young player.
"There's ways of doing it. I'd like to think I get it right a lot but if there are times you think, 'Well, maybe that was a bit harsh', you hold your hand up."
Did he regret venting his frustration in public? "Do you know what?" he responds. "I'm not going to sit here and talk about things I said and regret. No. You're not therapists to me. This is to do with my own conscience.
"It's an emotional game and sometimes you say things. You're upset by a performance or a result and I have no problem criticising somebody as a group but I suppose, not that I named them but there were names thrown at me at the press conference, then you've got to … you can't be having cheap shots either. There's a big difference. And I know that as well as anybody."
He is asked if players tend to move on quickly from these things.
"Yeah, I suppose so," he responds, before breaking into another grin. "I usually have my hands around their throats when I'm doing it so…"
This was the tone of the gathering. Keane expects that the mood around camp will change slightly when they settle into their Versailles base today.
The possibility of boredom seeping into the group was a theme of the day. With similar language to O'Neill, he dismissed it. "Usually when people say they're bored, that's because they're boring," he quipped. He is satisfied, however, that management have handled the preparations in the right way. The players were given the weekend off instead of being stuck in camp.
There have been optional team outings over the course of the fortnight; a golf day in Cork last week and a trip to the movies was on the cards last night.
In this department, Keane is happy to allow players do their own thing, with a nod to his own experience. He liked to shut himself off on occasion.
"We treat them like men," he shrugs. "It's not as if they have to go to the movies. I remember when I was in the Irish squad many years ago and I think we had to go to a music concert.
"I think it was the Stereophonics - I don't even like them and I had to go," he continues, breaking into the dialogue. "'I don't want to go'. 'You have to - it's the squad!'
"I think those days are gone," he continued, "that you are dragging people around to concerts. 'Listen lads, that's on tonight if you fancy it... but if you don't go you're dropped'."
Four years ago, the squad were already suffering from cabin fever before they landed in Poland and it featured as one possible explanation of the turgid performances. It is suggested to Keane that there can be no such excuse this time around. "If we lose three games, I'm sure we'll find some, don't worry," he interjects, breaking into laughter once more. "It's the nature of the game we're in. Again, it's wrong for me to comment on what happened in the previous campaign. But, even this afternoon, the players have free time.
"I don't think the manager can do any more on that side of it. That's where you have to trust them. So I wouldn't imagine us being over the next week thinking, 'This feels like a slog already' - far from it. The one or two days off over the weekend was a big plus."
He jokes that the staff needed a break from each other too. There is a pantomime element to the routine, especially in light of what's coming down the tracks later in the day. This show will go on.