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Sunday 21 September 2014

Martin O'Neill: 'I'm shocked Roy Keane is not managing a top club'

Published 12/11/2013 | 17:24

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Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with assistant manager Roy Keane
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with assistant manager Roy Keane

Martin O'Neill has admitted he is surprised no club has taken the chance to hand Roy Keane a return to management.

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The new Republic of Ireland manager appointed the 42-year-old as his assistant last week with Keane having been out of the game since losing his job at Ipswich in January 2011.

O'Neill was delighted to have landed a number two he believes will bring genuine quality to the international stage he once graced as a player, but revealed his astonishment at his availability.

He said: "I am. I know that he feels things didn't go very well at Ipswich for him.

"I think sometimes it's forgotten as well that in his first season, he actually got Sunderland promoted and did very well. Some of those things get lost in time and people want to forget that.

"But I think I was surprised that he hadn't had another opportunity, that somebody wouldn't have taken a chance with him.

"But who knows what might happen here? He's here, he is focussed on it. He wants to do it and I think you will find tomorrow that he is especially ready for it."

Keane will meet the media on Wednesday afternoon for the first time since his appointment and given that much of the talk since his return to the Irish set-up was first mooted has centred around his Saipan bust-up with then manager Mick McCarthy ahead of the 2002 World Cup finals, there is sure to be a packed house.

The former Manchester United midfielder was at the training ground by 9.30am on Tuesday morning, 90 minutes before the players were due to begin work under the new regime for the first time, and the initial feedback after a session in which he played a leading role was positive.

O'Neill said: "Roy? Well, I sent him there early," before adding: "I did not, he wanted to go.

"He was with the goalkeeping coach and Seamus (McDonagh) is always early. Seamus would have started at 5.30am this morning if he could, so Roy wanted to go with him just to get a few things organised.

"He was very focussed, he was looking forward to it and he was talking a great deal about it last night, and true to his word, he was there."

O'Neill revealed he spoke briefly to the players on Monday evening and then again on Tuesday morning before training, and he and Keane will spend the next two days getting to know the squad ahead of Friday's friendly against Latvia.

The manager already knows the likes of John O'Shea and Keiren Westwood from his time at Sunderland, and there was another familiar face in midfielder Aiden McGeady.

O'Neill said: "They are very enthusiastic and ready for it, I think. There's a bit of disappointment with the way in which the (World Cup) qualifiers ended.

"Just speaking to them last night, I think they felt that probably the killer-blow was really the late equaliser by Austria and that certainly knocked confidence a bit, and from then onwards, it was really uphill. But overall, they are looking forward to it.

"McGeady hasn't changed a bit since I knew him at Celtic. He's exactly the same, just as crabbit as they come. Not one bit, honestly."

When asked the inevitable question about Stephen Ireland's chances of being recalled to the squad after his self-imposed six-year exile, O'Neill insisted he had an open mind.

Ireland has indicated he would like to speak to the new management team, although the 61-year-old Ulsterman is not sure how he will approach the issue.

He said: "Some players are actually taller than me and some are stronger than me, and when I have a decision to leave them out, I might have to phone them rather than speak to them face-to-face. That will tell you how brave I am at the end of it all.

"When you have to face John Hartson in the wrath of a semi-final having been taken off the field - and we had won the game.

"I thought John would have been celebrating, but he was waiting for me in the tunnel, so having faced John, I think I can face most people.

"And to be perfectly honest, Stephen Ireland is much smaller than John Hartson."

Andy Reid has returned to the international fold in the wake of Giovanni Trapattoni's departure having fallen foul of the Italian following a sing-song in the team hotel in the wake of a World Cup qualifier victory over Georgia.

Asked if he could cope with Reid and his guitar, O'Neill replied: "If he plays it well, I haven't a problem with it.

"At some stage, Andy will have to go to bed, won't he? If he is still continuing to play at 5.30am, even I, even if we won, might get fed up with that."

Press Association

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