independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Irish players reminded not to believe rumours of assistant boss mellowing with age

Ferguson: Keane's man in the corner

BEFORE Roy Keane was appointed as Martin O'Neill's assistant, he was out and about near his home on the outskirts of Manchester when he bumped into an Irishman who he was on nodding terms with from walking their dogs.

On this occasion, Keane was stopped by his fellow countryman, who was eager to tell a story about how he had recently completed a half-marathon despite suffering from a bad cold.

"What time did you do?" Keane asked.

"I had a cold, so not great Roy," he explained.

"I'm not interested in excuses. What time did you get?" came the blunt, unsympathetic reply.

He hasn't really changed. Recently, on a promotional trip to Kildare, O'Neill joked that some Irish players were pleasantly surprised by the Corkman last month, finding him to be more jovial than the caricature.

But then, by all accounts, the squad were on their best behaviour that week and the performances followed, so there was nothing to annoy him. The caustic comments about Alex Ferguson illustrate that it would be unwise to exaggerate the extent of his supposed mellowing.

There is an irony in the fact that his words came in a documentary charting his hatred-fuelled rivalry with Patrick Vieira during the years when Ferguson was effectively his man in the corner with the towel sending Keane into battle.

Now, the former United captain has a certain affinity with the opponent he sparred with and contempt for the Scot because of how he discarded him.

The commonality with the Frenchman is the latest in an unlikely set of alliances; few would have imagined that Keane would one day defend David Beckham's right to marry Posh Spice, or sit across a swanky Dublin restaurant table with John Delaney, but this year has delivered both scenarios.

Over the years, his intensity has remained consistent, even if the targets have varied or wound up on the same side of the barricade.

His enmity towards Ferguson has clearly gone past the point of no return, however. Last week, Phil Neville told the story of his release from United in 2005, months before Keane was unceremoniously shown the door.

Neville drove over to Ferguson's house to be told that his future lay elsewhere, with Ferguson's wife Cathy venturing outside to comfort the player's wife, who was sitting in the car in tears, sensing what the meeting was about. It painted a sympathetic picture of the veteran boss.

Keane has a different take on his loyalty. In the documentary, he concedes that he shed a tear or two in his car once he realised that he had played his last game for United.

His grief was heightened by a sense of betrayal, the disappointment that somebody he trusted had, in his eyes, let him down.

The stinging reaction that will be broadcast tonight provides a timely reminder for the Irish players that he is still capable of cutting down those who fail to meet his expectations.

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