Sunday 22 September 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: 'Don't be so keen to condemn Roy for going too far'

It's wrong to mock a fellow player for crying, but Roy Keane can still do the country some service, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Roy Keane. Picture: Reuters/Matthew Childs
Roy Keane. Picture: Reuters/Matthew Childs

Eilis O'Hanlon

It's becoming increasingly common to drive people from public life for saying controversial or offensive things. This modern form of witch hunting has got so bad that most sensible people these days are choosing to say nothing at all, rather than risk the career-threatening wrath of the mob.

Roy Keane isn't one of them. The former Ireland assistant manager practically defies the mob to dare try. On most occasions, the choice of which side to back is as easy as it was when he was on the pitch.

This time, it's not so straightforward. Mocking former striker Jon Walters for "crying on the TV about his family situation" was quite the below-belt blow, even by Roy's standards. Walters's mother died of cancer when he was only 11. Last year he suffered a "triple whammy", as he called it on The Late, Late Show a few months ago, with the death of his older brother, his wife's loss of a baby, and his daughter's diagnosis of scoliosis.

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Anyone would be entitled to be upset in the same circumstances, whatever role they may or not have played in Keane's demise. That's why, on hearing about Roy's latest remarks at the Off The Ball roadshow in Dublin last week, one might be tempted to conclude that it's not always a bad thing to publicly shame those who make jaw-droppingly insensitive remarks.

Perhaps, though, this is an example of expecting the wrong things from the wrong people. Roy's never going to be a shoulder to cry on - but then people who are more sensitive are never going to provide what he so thrillingly provides, which is not giving a damn. The truth is you need both in life.

Say that you had an antique table that needed some delicate sanding. You wouldn't take a pneumatic drill to it, and then angrily throw out the drill just because it destroyed the table. The mistake was thinking the drill was the right tool for the job.

If it's sensitivity you're after, then Roy Keane is not the right man for the job; but there are jobs for which some heavy duty machinery is required, and you'd soon miss it if you had to knock down a wall and realised that all the sledgehammers had been thrown out and replaced with feather dusters.

Roy Keane is a sledgehammer, he's a pneumatic drill, and there's a certain satisfaction in seeing him do what he does best, not least at a time when few people are prepared to poke their heads above that parapet.

That's why people also like watching politically incorrect comedy. It's about saying the unsayable. Sometimes they might say things that arguably shouldn't have been said at all, because there's always a risk of going too far, especially in a live setting, with no safety net; but it's still cathartic to hear them being expressed without any care for the feelings of those who might be offended.

The country would be in serious trouble if it lost its appreciation for those, such as Roy Keane, who are prepared to stubbornly violate polite conventions and then face up to the consequences without fear. Likewise, it would be in even more trouble if everyone else was like him. The world needs diplomats too.

Thankfully, there have been plenty of counter voices ready to take Roy to task, including charities who work with the bereaved, as well as decent fans jumping to Jon Walters's defence. The hard man persona might work for Roy, but it hasn't for far too many, as male suicide rates show too well.

But a balance needs two sides - savagery and sympathy. His critics wouldn't be able to do what Roy Keane does either. The audience knows exactly what to expect when it goes along to one of those informal roadshow settings. That's what they pay their hard-earned money to see - a master of mordancy walking that tightrope. Being able to cry helps many to get through the dark patches in life, but inappropriate humour helps plenty of others do the same. Different strokes.

Anyone who was there, or watched the road show on YouTube afterwards, can confirm that Roy Keane was as funny and cutting as ever. Now that the beard has gone, it's easier to see the mischief in his face. He no longer looks like a crazed jihadi. It would be absurd to ostracise him for the occasional mistake. Gaffes come with the territory.

Having said all that, there are times when saying nothing is the best policy, and it wouldn't kill him to learn to recognise those moments when silence is best.

Sunday Independent

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