Sunday 11 December 2016

'Let's make Ireland proud' - Roy Keane wants to focus on the positives

Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30

Roy Keane during squad training. Republic of Ireland Squad Training, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roy Keane during squad training. Republic of Ireland Squad Training, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

"Thanks for your time Roy," said one journalist, as the Ireland assistant manager scanned the room ahead of the newspaper section of his press conference.

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"I think it's in my contract," replied Keane, with a grin, as he pulled out a chair to sit down.

That may well be the case but, one year on from a fraught exchange in the Portmarnock Hotel where voices were raised amid suggestions he was becoming a distraction, Martin O'Neill's sidekick is comfortable in this role.

Earlier, in the broadcast section of his commitments, there was slight discomfort when the issue of injured players and disputes between club and country prompted a query about his own experience of the subject. "Yeah, I have been on the other side of it," he said. "What's your point?"

Ian Turner, Limerick FC, is presented with his SSE/SWAI Airtricity Player of the Month Award by Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane
Ian Turner, Limerick FC, is presented with his SSE/SWAI Airtricity Player of the Month Award by Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane

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Martin O'Neill and Steve McClaren's dispute over Rob Elliot provided a bit of life on a slow news day and, later on, Keane admitted to being a little bemused by the extent to which a vital week had been dominated by chatter about individuals who were absent.

"We've got to be careful we don't get distracted talking about a lot of the players that aren't here," he stressed. "I think the Irish media are quite good at that."

Of course, he's been on the other side of that too. It's a valid point, though, if one views media appearances as a chance for the protagonists to send a message to the dressing room as well as the outside world. To linger on the impact of possibly losing John O'Shea and Shane Long from the entire battle with Bosnia, in addition to Jon Walters' suspension for Friday, would suggest a lack of confidence in the alternatives. Keane was determined to push the opposite message.

James McClean and Richard Keogh go through their paces in training in Abbotstown
James McClean and Richard Keogh go through their paces in training in Abbotstown

"I think it would be different if this had come up in the last one or two days and it's thrown our plans," he said, "But part of me had ruled Shane out anyway and Sheasy and one or two of the lads that got serious knocks. If the lads get back in the next day or two for the second leg it would be fantastic, but we've had setbacks earlier in the group.

"We've had disappointments, we've been written off one or two times. I remember the Germany game away, when David Meyler played at right-back. Lads have come in and done a job for us."

It was a theme he returned to when asked about the possibility of Darren Randolph continuing between the sticks with Shay Given out. "You can go through any of the players," he said. "I wouldn't lose any sleep over them fighting for the cause. Let's talk about the lads who are here, who trained today, who are available.

"You can't get distracted by the second leg until you get though the first one. That's the biggest mistake you can make in sport, is take your eye off the ball. Let's look at Friday, do the country proud and be alive and fighting on Monday night."

He was content to discuss individuals at length when they were in the fit-and-well category. Several of the main contenders for Zenica were raised with Ciaran Clark chief amongst them.

"I like Clarky," said Keane of a player he knows fairly well from his short stint at Aston Villa. "He's a good kid, a good player and what he probably needs now is a run at international level and get some games under his belt and he'll do that if he's performing week in, week out at Aston Villa.

Ireland's Shane Long is stretchered off after sustaining an injury
Ireland's Shane Long is stretchered off after sustaining an injury

"And, obviously, with people like John O'Shea not getting any younger, Clarky will probably look at this week and say it's a big opportunity for him if he gets picked. He's come here on the back of a good result (Aston Villa's draw with Manchester City), a clean sheet and a decent performance. It's nice when lads come into the hotel and you know they've had a good weekend, just like Daryl Murphy."

The Waterford attacker, who scored a hat-trick at Rotherham to break his duck for the campaign, is a serious contender given that bad news on Long would reduce the striking options for the away leg to a three-horse race - with MLS-based Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle the other runners.

"Murph has a spring in his step and if he gets the nod on Friday, he won't let us down," said the number two. "I think he can score goals at international level. He needs a break like everybody else."

He also pointed out that the younger Keane, his skipper, will still have a part to play this weekend. Then again, when he laboured on the defensive debate, and the fact that Edin Dzeko will have arrived in fine spirits following a weekend goal for Roma, he gave every squad member a mention.

"It's a big test, but we were just talking about Clarky and the only way to test our players is by playing against them (Dzeko). We could sit around and go, 'Yeah, I think he could do it'. If these lads play, be it Richard Keogh, (Alex) Pearce, (Shane) Duffy is doing well, the only way to find out is in these big games.

"Whatever about training sessions, that's all well and good, but you find out how potentially good your players are by playing against the best players. I experienced that myself. There's only one way to find out."

He applied the same logic to Wes Hoolahan's prospects of getting through both matches, with his implication that O'Neill would take stock after round one, suggesting that fears he will be rested for the away leg are misplaced.

"What age is Wes?" said Keane. "33," came the response.

"Oh . . . he looks younger," he joked, "Sometimes a player gets labelled with that (not playing twice back to back) but it's been explained the reason Wes missed the last time was because he was injured. We've not discussed it; we'll know better after Friday night's game. Let's get through the first one, then we'll have an idea how physical it was. It might be a real technical game; we won't know until we get out there."

Airport restrictions mean that Ireland will have to stay over on Friday rather than travelling straight back home, a break from the usual routine. It's another variable that will, essentially, lead to the winners writing the history and the losing seeking excuses.

"Can you ask me next Tuesday," he said, "People analyse the draws, the seeds, being away in the first game. Every year when we were in the Champions League, we'd ask, 'Was it better to be away first?'

"You have to put all that in the melting pot. That's when you go back to players and warriors and leaders. It's very intriguing to see how things pan out. Let's go, put in a performance and see where it takes us."

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