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'Keane drives people, he's a big influence, that's why I want him'

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'Keane did not emerge well from the account given by Stephen Ward in his leaked WhatsApp message but there is no question in O'Neill's mind that his assistant was entitled to have his say.'  Photo: Sportsfile

'Keane did not emerge well from the account given by Stephen Ward in his leaked WhatsApp message but there is no question in O'Neill's mind that his assistant was entitled to have his say.' Photo: Sportsfile

'Keane did not emerge well from the account given by Stephen Ward in his leaked WhatsApp message but there is no question in O'Neill's mind that his assistant was entitled to have his say.' Photo: Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill has backed Roy Keane, to the hilt, in their five years together as custodians of the Republic of Ireland national team.

And a leaked social media message from within the camp has done nothing to change that as the Derry native made a staunch defence of his assistant in the latest chapter in the soap opera that is Keane's role with the Irish set-up.

O'Neill has had to come out in Keane's defence before, more than once, as a Euro qualifying double header in 2014 was almost overshadowed by the release of extracts from the second volume of Keane's autobiography, the week that Ireland were in camp.

Keane did not emerge well from the account given by Stephen Ward in his leaked WhatsApp message but there is no question in O'Neill's mind that his assistant was entitled to have his say.

The story has more twists to come as O'Neill later claimed that a "reconciliation" between Keane and Harry Arter is possible, even imminent, but for now, there is no question of Keane being sidelined while the FAI try to assess the damage.

"That is totally and utterly my responsibility. Absolutely my responsibility," O'Neill said. "And if I thought something was seriously and utterly out of hand, that was going to cause ferocious consternation in the camp I would look at it regardless of who it was, I think that's how I have done that with my managerial career.

"You were talking about Roy Keane there, this was after Roy Keane had coerced that top quality team to win seven championships...

"He was looking for exacting standards and that's exactly what I want, exacting standards whatever way they are mentioned to people... That's not to say that every utterance that myself or Roy Keane makes is absolutely and utterly correct," O'Neill added.

But after all these years, two decades after United's treble success, so long after his last managerial post, can Keane still drive people? O'Neill insists he can.

"Absolutely. Roy Keane drives people. That's what I want him in for. The responsibility is mine," added the Ireland boss.

"I am the manager. I've managed pretty successfully for quite a number of years. I've said to you about assistant managers, but I know what I'm getting at at the end of the day.

"Roy Keane has had a big influence on getting to where we are at this minute. We're having a tough time here because we have played for five years without a goal scoring centre-forward and at any level that is difficult. But at international level it is bordering on improbable and we have done the improbable as we have got there," he added.

One of the claims in Ward's account, and similar noises have emerged from sources close to Arter, is that Keane heavily criticised Arter and Walters for being unable to play due to injury.

But O'Neill insists he has not ever ignored medical advice over an injury and forced an unfit player to play.

"The answer is never, never, not only have I not done it at national level, I have never done it at club level. I have never gone against the advice of a doctor, in fact I have always erred on the side of caution," he said.

"I have tried on occasion, when I think that somebody has a bit of a sore finger I have tried to convince them to play as I did not think that it was a major problem.

"But in terms of putting people under pressure to play football at medical risk to themselves, after all at the end of it all, their careers are the most important thing, I have never done it I say that without hesitation."

Case closed. Roy and Martin are welded to each other.


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