'When you have a bit of success, make the most of it'
Upbeat assistant manager in reflective mood as he heaps praise on Ireland squad
Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30
It is the morning after the night before and, as weary-looking players wander around Castleknock Hotel saying their goodbyes, a sharp-suited Roy Keane is put forward to sum up the mood of the victorious camp.
In other countries, the natives would take umbrage at the assistant manager taking centre stage in the aftermath of such a momentous achievement. This is no ordinary assistant manager, though.
After two decades in the centre of Irish soccer discussion, regardless of whether he's been inside the camp or out of it, Keane is often viewed as the arbiter for an appropriate response to success. He speaks in a manner which suggests that his stance has mellowed in this unlikely role as assistant to Martin O'Neill.
"You have to enjoy these moments," he says. "I knew how to enjoy myself as a player. When you have a bit of success, the highs, then make the most of it because football and sport is about a lot of lows. The craic in the dressing room last night with the staff and the players was fantastic, it was brilliant for everyone."
A word for the fans, Roy?
"It'll be a better tournament with the Irish fans there," he says. "Everyone would admit to that."
These are curious times indeed, considering his disparaging references to a Polish singsong in his role as an ITV pundit meant that Ireland's last game in a miserable European Championships in 2012 concluded with fans defiantly telling their former skipper that they would do whatever they wanted.
It would be a stretch to claim that his view on life has changed dramatically in the intervening period. By all accounts, Keane demands the same high standards and has good and bad days. His book hinted at that.
Still, the regularity with which this group of players has put a smile on his face suggests that he is at ease in this environment.
"I've enjoyed working with the players," he said, "I've been a little bit more hands-on, which I've enjoyed. I've probably surprised myself with that, having previously been a manager. It's worked out well.
"We had a good night on Monday. It's even better when you wake up this morning and say, 'Yeah, the players got the job done'."
When everything is said and done, it always comes down to the players. There will always be a parish that is frustrated by personalities on the sideline getting the attention, especially when that man is Keane.
His fondness for this dressing room is striking, considering that the undertone to his various frustrations over the years were doubts about the strength of the Irish mentality. Nobody can question the resolution of this group.
After an agonising wait for a keynote victory at the Aviva Stadium, they've delivered two in a row to shape their Euros destiny and build on the late strikes in the early part of the group that turned draws into wins and losses into draws.
Keane surveyed the warm-ups from both camps before the game on Monday and liked what he saw on the Irish half of the pitch.
"I know you cannot gauge too much from them but I just thought that we're really up for the fight. I could feel it with the fans before the game. And I felt that Bosnia just felt they had the players . . ."
He hinted at complacency without mentioning it directly. Ireland, to paraphrase an old Keane saying, were not prepared to accept failure.
"I didn't think for one minute that we were going to get beaten," he continued. "There are moments where you are nervous of course. People said to me afterwards that it was almost comfortable - I thought, 'What game were you watching?'
"But I just thought that the lads are up for this, particularly with the positive result on Friday. Whatever we're short in terms of quality and maybe options, we make up for it with work rate, desire, hunger."
He is asked if this group has reconnected with the nation.
"Maybe so," he shrugs. "I think we needed that last night. When you look back maybe at the Germany game, it was a big turning point.
"There have been lots of changes since we've come on board. Some of it might have seemed small to the media, but the change of training ground (from Malahide to Abbotstown in September), change of hotel, different routines for the players and they've adapted well.
"Injuries and suspensions? They've all adapted well, accepted the challenges and the disappointments, especially the Scotland game because I think everyone generally accepted then that it was between ourselves and Scotland (for third) and if we hadn't taken four points off them then we'd struggle. We made up for that against Germany.
"Going back to the Jack Charlton time, you needed a few results to go your way. But then it's taking advantage of that which matters and we managed to do it, particularly in the Germany game."
While some members of the squad headed into the Dublin night to enjoy the moment, and others chose to soak in the mood of satisfaction around the hotel, the staff stayed up chatting until the early hours.
They spoke about the challenges that lie around the corner. Picking a 23-man squad for the finals will be a challenge seeing as they bring in about 30 players into every gathering.
O'Neill's predecessor, Giovanni Trapattoni, got the balance wrong by dumping Kevin Foley on the eve of the tournament. Challenging decisions lie ahead that will test the good vibes.
"We were discussing that as well. That was at about 6.30 this morning," smiled Keane. "Twenty-seven or 28 players is not great coaching numbers when you're on the pitch. The 23 might make it easier, although narrowing it down to 23 is hard."
He was part of the 1994 squad that was boosted by the arrival of bolters Phil Babb, Gary Kelly and Jason McAteer. The number two would be thrilled if extra options pop up, yet stresses that they are pretty much aware of what is out there. March's friendly with Switzerland and other games that will be arranged will give characters on the periphery such as Alan Judge and Harry Arter an opportunity to make a case.
"Martin will give fringe players the opportunities to get into the squad," he stressed. "We will see what lads are available and where they stand at club level. That (emergence of new faces) is the hope we have. Whether there are lads we have not mentioned in the background - obviously the Grealish saga dragged on a bit - we have seen the U-21s once or twice, and there may be others out there. We hope there might be lads in the background who will make a late charge."
The Grealish reference slipped by without a follow-up query as that is old news now. All the distractions that cropped up in the course of the campaign have been rendered irrelevant by the final outcome.
Irish football has a lot of work to do to escape its chequered history, and Keane's will probably always follow him around, but the class of Euro 2016 have earned respect by taking control of their chapter.
Keane on the players
"He deserves great credit, I thought he was a real calming presence, his personality shone through over the last couple of weeks. I know Seamus (McDonagh) worries that he's a little bit too laid-back but I don't worry about that."
"There was never any doubt about Jon. That was why I was trying hard to keep him (at Ipswich where they had a spectacular falling-out before he joined Stoke). He is a big character, a warrior, and we could do with a few more Jon Walters'. There was a falling-out. But we are friends now."
Robbie Keane/John O'Shea/Shay Given
"Don't be writing these boys off, they've all contributed. They won't be giving up their places in the group easily. Even when they're not in the starting 11, it's what they bring to the dressing room and training pitch. Robbie has been brilliant, Sheasy was pushing to get back in last night and then there's the way Shay came back at the start of the campaign. I know for a fact they'll believe they can get in that starting line-up for France."
Darron Gibson/Aiden McGeady
"It is important these lads go and get games under their belts because it will be very difficult for the manager to go and pick lads who may not have kicked a ball for six months." Potential Bolters "It will be good with a couple of friendlies. There will be a chance for Alan Judge to get involved and Harry Arter. These boys we haven't seen enough of. You are always hoping one or two will surprise you."