Focused Keane satisfied with Irish attitude
Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30
Roy Keane was more than 15 minutes into his press duties when the issue of the unfortunate car crash on the M50 was inevitably raised.
A brief exchange followed.
"I'm fine, yeah. Do I look okay?" he replied, sharply. "Good."
That was the end of that.
At some stage in the future, there's a fair chance that Keane will make light of the circumstances that led to him standing on the edge of a busy road after a youngster accidentally bashed into his Range Rover.
This was not the appropriate juncture for frivolity, however. The contrast in seriousness between this week and last has been personified by the mood of the Irish assistant manager.
Seven days ago, in the early giddy hours of the FAI/FIFA storm and ahead of the friendly with England, Keane was relaxed and able to afford a smile at the circus. But 48 hours out from the pivotal Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland that will set the tone for the rest of this year, the game face was firmly on.
He wanted to see that edge on the training pitch from the players too, while stressing the need for balance at the end of a long campaign.
"Everything in moderation," he explained. "It's no good peaking on a Thursday morning in Malahide. We need to peak at 5[pm] on Saturday.
"But I don't want players strolling around the training pitch. You've got to get the balance right and when players know there are places up for grabs then there's got to be an edge to training, of course there has. Just don't go leaving it on the training ground either.
"There's been a big build-up to the game and we don't want to overcook players because they've had long enough seasons. We just want them to give another big effort on Saturday.
"From what I've seen of the players, we'll be ready. But the proof's in the pudding a bit."
Beneath the business-like exterior, Keane was essentially spreading a positive message yesterday.
It is clear that he is sceptical about the rave reviews that the Scots have received for their renaissance under Gordon Strachan. Repeatedly, he referred to the fine margins that decided the first meeting.
In saying that, he is reluctant to seize on the absence of Wes Hoolahan, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy and Marc Wilson from Glasgow as an explanation.
"You can't make excuses for the last game that players weren't available," he shrugged. "That's just the nature of the game, the disadvantage of international football. You can turn up and four, five, six lads might be missing.
"We've lost Harry Arter the last one or two days and we weren't expecting but we've got some lads back to fitness."
Arter impressed as a sub in the scoreless draw with England but, realistically, the Bournemouth midfielder was only ever going to start on the bench.
The identity of O'Neill's forward line is what's prompting the most debate. Robbie Keane was present and correct in Malahide and it's a shortage of match fitness that has significantly lengthened the odds of the skipper leading the team out.
The 34-year-old's feedback on his health could shape the final decision.
"He'd be pretty honest about where he is physically and whether he can start the game or not," continued Keane. "We'll look at that.
"Robbie got through a full game last Saturday - his first 90 minutes in two months which is not easy for a player who is very rarely injured. The plan (with LA Galaxy) was that he was supposed to play 45/60 minutes only but I think their team was losing and, as you do, you're tempted to carry on."
Jon Walters and Shane Long were preferred to the captain at Celtic Park while the latter came off the bench to nab the equaliser against Poland.
Walters may be selected as a winger tomorrow and Long has developed his versatility at Southampton. If there's a wildcard option, it's Daryl Murphy who is looking for the perfect end to the best campaign of his career.
He registered 27 goals to top the Championship charts and Keane, who worked with the player at both Sunderland and Ipswich, was impressed.
"Daryl's had the season of his life," he enthused, "I've always liked Murph. Did I ever think he'd get 27 goals in a season? I always thought he had the potential but potential is one thing. I'm not surprised the way he's progressed his career.
"He's a good player, a good lad, very rarely injured and his training this week has been very, very good. Even against England, he created one or two chances. If Murph starts, he won't let anyone down."
The starting team will naturally have to cope with a weight of expectation, even if it would be a stretch to say that the public's anticipation levels are at fever pitch. That should change on match day.
"It's probably the biggest game we've had," mused Keane, "and I think the atmosphere will take care of itself. The players are well aware of that."
Their application from the outset can also have the greatest influence on the volume. "As much as we want fans to get behind them, I appreciate that we need to go out and perform," added Keane.
"We're always talking about goals but that can be from a tackle, a clearance, a desire from the players and getting balls into the box. I think all that will fall into place."
In other words, it's Scotland's turn for a rough ride.