Booked: two great sporting warriors in a war of words
The Golden Boy and the Outsider will go head-to-head in the highly lucrative memoir market, writes Joe O'Shea
Two Irish sporting icons. One, the Golden Boy with the perfect public persona and virtually spotless record, the other, spiky, cantankerous, fiercely charismatic and (in the past at least) deeply divisive.
Brian O'Driscoll and Roy Keane are working on major autobiographies and both are employing the services of heavy-hitting ghost-writers.
Keane's memoir, The Second Half, will be written by Booker-prize-winning author Roddy Doyle and should be in bookstores this autumn. Publishers Orion say it will blend "memoir and motivational writing in a manner which both disquiets and reassures in Roy Keane's own original voice".
Brian O'Driscoll's biography is being written with the help of respected sports journalist and former pro-cyclist Paul Kimmage. And while publishers Penguin Ireland have no confirmed release date as yet, Keano and Bod are expected to go head-to-head in the lucrative Christmas market at the end of this year.
For sports fans and the wider public in general, it should be a fascinating match-up between the two contrasting characters who have dominated Irish sport for two decades.
One is the son of two doctors with a solidly middle-class Dublin background that took in Blackrock College, a scholarship to UCD and a steady rise through the ranks to a glittering career.
The other is a working-class boy from Cork, who reacted to early rejection from pro clubs and the Ireland schoolboys' set-up (a coach later said he was "just too small") by taking labouring jobs and writing to scores of clubs in England for a trial, before finally getting a late, late chance with Nottingham Forest. In the kind of simple terms that marketing men love, it's The Golden Boy versus The Outsider.
O'Driscoll is already ahead in the popularity stakes. A national survey released this week saw 22pc of Irish adults name the Leinster and Ireland star as their most admired Irish sports personality. Katie Taylor came second with 13pc while Roy Keane trailed in third at 8pc.
However, the survey was carried out just before Keane's dramatic return to the Irish set-up. And Onside Sponsorship MD John Trainor believes we are seeing a sea-change in the way the Irish public – and corporate Ireland – perceive the Manchester United legend.
"I think Roy's popularity is experiencing an uplift and the public's perception of him is changing, mainly through his new job with the Irish team," says Trainor.
The sports marketing man says he was recently at an event for Irish business leaders at which Keane did a Q&A and was anything but the hot-head of popular legend.
"The room completely hung on every word he said. He was measured, thoughtful, very insightful about management and leadership."
Roy Keane – or at least our perception of him – may be changing. But when put head to head with Brian O'Driscoll, the contrasts between our two greatest sportsmen are glaring. And they include:
Class is an issue we don't like to talk about in this country; it's something that the British do and sure aren't we all Irish, after all? But both men are very much products of their backgrounds. Keane, the working-class boy from the second-city (and a northsider at that, a distinction that only Leesiders can really get), O'Driscoll, the middle-class Dub. The late-developing Corkman had to cope with lots of rejection in his teen years and scrap for his chance; O'Driscoll was almost fated from the start to shine.
Keane went to Mayfield Community School but left when he was 15. O'Driscoll went to Willow Park primary school in Blackrock and then on to Blackrock College, before winning a sports scholarship to UCD where he completed a diploma in Sports Management.
Keane had his well-publicised battle with booze, his share of pub brawls and, by his own admission, came close to self-destruction.
O'Driscoll had a few speed wobbles (the tragic bleached hair, the WAG-esque girlfriend) before knuckling down and becoming the ultra-professional rugby star and family man.
O'Driscoll is married to the actress Amy Huberman; they have a daughter, Sadie.
Roy's wife Teresa shuns the limelight; they have five children, ranging in age from 18 down, four girls, Shannon (the oldest), Caragh, Leah and Alanna, and one boy, Aidan (14 and an Arsenal fan).
In April of last year, the Sunday Times Rich List placed Roy's worth at €35.4m, second only among British football managers to his former boss Alex Ferguson (€41.5m). Keane's current boss, Martin O'Neill, was said to be worth €14.5m. Most of Keane's money was made during his playing career.
Brian's investment company (his dad Frank is a director and it was set up when the player was 22) posted a profit of €3.19m in 2012. O'Driscoll was Ireland's highest paid rugby star for nine seasons up to 2012 with his annual salary rising from €200,000 to a reported €420,000 over that period.
While O'Driscoll is heavily involved in the kind of commercial partnerships that go with modern A-list sports stardom (deals with the likes of Adidas, Gillette, Lexus, HSBC bank) Keane has mostly stayed away from major corporate sponsorship.
One of Keane's few forays into that world, a big deal with soft-drink brand 7Up in the run-up to the World Cup in 2002, turned into nothing short of a PR disaster when Keane (the face of the slogan "Clearly There's No Substitute") left Saipan.
According to one Irish sports marketing expert, O'Driscoll will always have the edge: "The guys who make the decisions in corporate Ireland like rugby and they love BOD. He's their kind of guy. That's not usually the case with Keane and soccer in general."
For years, journalists would make the annual pilgrimage south to the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind HQ in Cork city for Roy's once-a-year Q&A session. A dog-lover and patron of the charity, it was virtually the only Irish media appearance Keane would do (but was always worth hearing).
His punditry work with ITV – in which he regularly gives the hapless Adrian Chiles the terrifying Keano Stare while grimly laying into the consensus view – has seen him loosen up. In his earlier years, Brian O'Driscoll had something of a reputation for showing up late to interviews and PR events. But these days he is the consummate media performer. BOD is also an enthusiastic Twitter user (as is his wife, Amy Huberman). Roy's attitude to social media can best be summed up as "icy".
What They Have in Common
Michael O'Keefe is MD of Pembroke Communications and heavily involved in sports marketing and media strategy. And he says that in one area at least – on the pitch – most fans see Keane and Drico as cut from the same cloth.
"You look at their backgrounds and the sports they chose and, yes, there is a lot of contrast. Soccer is a truly global game for a start and that makes different demands," he says.
"But in terms of their approach to their game, they have a lot of common. Keane may have had some problems early on but he made himself the perfect pro. And he was always a leader, an incredibly tough competitor, a guy who put his body on the line. O'Driscoll is the same, he's an intense, driven, hard competitor. I think that's why supporters respond to them, idolise them.'
WHO WILL PULL THEIR PUNCHES?
There's a good chance that the first people seeking a look at Roy's book will be lawyers acting for one A Ferguson and possibly the Glazers, current owners of Manchester United.
But while we can expect the Corkman to be characteristically blunt, his new writing partner, Roddy Doyle, may take a less dramatic approach to telling the story.
Expect plenty of headline-making digs, kicks, revelations and recriminations. But also a more thoughtful, mature Roy.
The initial word was that Brian O'Driscoll's book with Paul Kimmage would not come out until he had either retired or at least set the date.
However, the Ireland, Leinster and Lions captain may have a cut off Warren Gatland. Why pass up the chance?