Wednesday 19 June 2019

'The conversation with Roy stays between me and Roy' - Harry Arter is back in harness four months after Keane spat

Four months on from his training-ground spat with Roy Keane, Arter is back in harness and determined to put it all behind him

Harry Arter of Republic of Ireland prior to the UEFA Nations League B group four match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Harry Arter of Republic of Ireland prior to the UEFA Nations League B group four match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Harry Arter clears a Danish header off the line to preserve Ireland’s clean sheet. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

On a night touted as a catharsis of sorts, Harry Arter stayed faithful to the theme, pausing in the 'mixed zone' to indulge our fascination with all that June bad weather rolling through Roy Keane's head.

Maybe emboldened by his 58th-minute clearance of Simon Kjaer's header off the Irish goal-line, the benevolence of Arter's gesture was to stop when he didn't have to. Four months on from the training-ground spat leading to his brief exile from international football, it felt a God-send to media folk otherwise left chronicling an event of speechlessly depressing emptiness.

Keane is the screenplay that keeps on giving, yet Arter's experience is a reminder of the simpler truth that the Ireland assistant manager's gift for melodrama leaves its scars.

Asked if he'd been hurt by the Corkman's reputedly expletive-laden attack on him (and Jonathan Walters) for sitting out a training session on medical advice, his response was "There's no denying it. I wouldn't say hurt, I just felt that the best thing to do at the time was to stay away.

"There's no point beating around the bush and making out it was for any other reason. At the time, I felt the best thing for myself and for my team-mates was me not being part of the group. We've patched it up now and all I know is I am comfortable to come back here and try and play as well as I can.

"I've never not wanted to come away. I've never wanted to miss games through injury, that's not in my make-up to do that."

Harry Arter leaving the pitch in front of Roy Keane after being substituted. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Harry Arter leaving the pitch in front of Roy Keane after being substituted. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Arter's dervish energy on the field belies a measured style off it. His language was careful now. He'd had "a good conversation" with Keane on the phone, the detail of which he now had little interest in divulging. "The conversation with Roy stays between me and Roy," he said.

"It was good to speak to him and I put things to bed."

Yet for all the reconciliation expressed, it was hard to escape the sense of something profoundly skewed at play here. Arter is part of perhaps the weakest Ireland squad in a generation. One for whom a scoreless draw against modest, mildly disinterested opponents registered on Saturday as some kind of redemption.

Between them, Martin O'Neill and his assistant are paid somewhere in excess of €2.5 million annually to keep this show afloat. Saturday night's was Ireland's sixth game since that ugly World Cup playoff meltdown against the Danes, four of them friendlies. Just one victory has been recorded.

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Anecdotally, Keane - as assistant - is paid close to what Age Hareide received for guiding Denmark to those World Cup finals.

O'Neill suggested last week that Arter would feel he'd come back to the Irish squad "to prove a point", yet that wasn't the Cardiff player's assessment here. "No, not overly," he reflected calmly. "Every game you want to prove to yourself that you are capable of playing at this level. You want to be the best player in the game.

"I think in every player's mind he should do anyway. But there is nothing personal, no trying to prove anyone wrong. I just try and play the best I can for me and my teams in every game, whether that's here or in Cardiff. And that's that."

Pointedly, he talked of having the support of the dressing-room.

"Yeah, the lads have all backed me for what I have done," said Arter. "I think the lads understood what happened and they are professional enough. They need to understand that everyone is different in football, everyone has different opinions in certain circumstances.

"That's just the way life is, people view things differently.

"I feel that I'm the sort of character that gets on with everyone and I've never really fallen out with anyone in my life to be honest with you. All my team-mates at Bournemouth, Cardiff and Ireland will all say they have never had a problem with me.

"The manager has had his say on it. Myself? I didn't say anything and, up until now, I still won't say anything. All I know is that when it comes to football and playing...that's all I want to do. Criticism is part and parcel of football. I have never had a problem with being criticised in the past and I never will have going forward.

"I've been at Bournemouth for eight years and I can assure you that I've been criticised within those eight years. And, clearly, it's never been a problem and never will be."

Arter's message, clearly, was that he regarded Keane's June eruption as something beyond the pale. Something darker. "It wasn't criticism" he said flatly. "It was a conversation that happened and me and Roy have sorted it out. And that's all that matters."

Perhaps so, but a vacuum needs filling and the truth is that this Irish regime remains more compelling for what happens off the field than on it.

Saturday's performance was earnest and sincere, yet a long way adrift of any real, meaningful coherence. Arter's role in two central moments maybe spoke of the crumbs on offer. It was the fifth-minute sight of his prone figure on the ground that prompted the Danes to stop play, Jeff Hendrick left galloping unpoliced towards Kasper Schmeichel's goal only to miss a seemingly unmissable target.

The Danes promptly rounded on Hendrick for what they regarded as poor sportsmanship, yet Arter defended his team-mate. "Jeff is an honest lad," he protested. "There's no way he would have attempted to... he thought the lad just gave the ball away and he didn't hear a whistle.

"In football, your mindset is to win games, obviously not through cheating. But Jeff definitely didn't know what was going on. His biggest disappointment was that he didn't stick it in the net!"

Then there was that clearance off the line, not to mention an eighth-minute booking for a tackle that communicated all the control of a shopping trolley rolling down a hill.

Still, he sounded happy to be back in the fold.

"I never needed an apology" he said of that telephone conversation with Keane. "I never wanted a 'sorry'. I never wanted anything like that. I wasn't in a position to do that to be honest with you. I wasn't someone that was demanding anything, I'm not that sort of character. But what happened...I wasn't happy with and that was it really. That was my mindset. It was more just... 'can we put this to bed for the sake of the team more than anyone?'"

Irish Independent

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