Monday 19 August 2019

Roy Keane: 'We are not going to the Euros for a sing-song'

‘Now that O’Neill has had a conclusive last laugh, it’s as well to admit that his instincts proved to be right’
‘Now that O’Neill has had a conclusive last laugh, it’s as well to admit that his instincts proved to be right’
Roy Keane has set out the mindset Irish players will need to do well in France next June

John Fallon

For all the talk of Roy Keane mellowing with age, there's no deviation from his stance when it comes to the mindset Ireland require heading to a major tournament.

Keane was vilified in 2012 for suggesting a "sing-song" was the height of Ireland's impact on the European Championship.

Now on the inside as Martin O'Neill's assistant, he's equally firm on what the outlook should be as the latest showpiece in France next June looms.

"We don't want to have that mentality going over there that, 'It's great, let's have a sing-song'," noted Keane at the weekend as fans bathed in the afterglow of Ireland's play-off triumph over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"We'll need all our leaders in France. Listen, the Irish fans want to see us do well and win football matches which will be possibly difficult because of the seedings."

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As Ireland discovered last time out, those seedings carry potential to diminish hopes before a ball is even kicked.

Drawing Spain and Italy again ranks as a possibility, given Ireland remain anchored within the bottom cohort of nations, but kinder groupings are available, allied to the increased prospect of emerging from the pool due to the expansion of the event to 24 nations.

Familiar stereotypes continue to follow Ireland around, yet Keane is swift to point out these inherent traits can be complemented by the armoury of the current bunch.

"There's always talk of the fighting Irish but we have qualities," argued the 44-year-old.

Several Ireland players, including Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters, have taken the long road to success

"Jon Walters got the headlines last week for his work rate and goals against Bosnia.

"Other lads can lead in different ways - in the dressing room, in the background or when they're travelling.

"Jon led by example. When we missed him in the first leg, others stepped up the plate like Robbie Brady scoring that superb goal.

"Looking back, we had Aiden McGeady in the first match scoring the late winner in Georgia, then Shane Long did it in the last minute in the Poland match home and against Germany.

David Forde and Seamus Coleman celebrate after beating Bosnia

"In Seamus Coleman, there's no better right-back out there at the moment.

"Whatever happens, I know these lads will have a good go in France. If we come up short but the players have given everything for their country, I've no problem with that.

"Win, lose or draw, that keeps me happy."

Fears that Keane won't be around following the jaunt to France appear to have been allayed by the man himself.

When he aired on the morning after qualification was secured his intention to "play it by ear", talk of O'Neill being left without his famous sidekick for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers rocketed.

However, with the Derryman open to sticking around, Keane sees no reason to reactivate his pursuit of a No 1 position in his own right.

'Ireland hadn’t retreated when facing a superior team like Germany. Under O’Neill (pictured) they would attempt to discover if there were weaknesses in the opponents’ attitude'

"If Martin wants me to stay on, it will be very hard to say no because I think I'm a very loyal person and I don't forget that Martin gave me that chance," the Corkman stressed.

"I'm not going to jump ship. I enjoy the job, working with Martin, his staff and the players.

"There is a little part of me that I can't get away from that wants to get back in the ring and make the big decisions.

"That will fall into place depending on how long Martin wants to stay and how long he wants me with him.

"It's been brilliant from day one. It's everything I hoped it would be. Maybe people were surprised when Martin approached me. And I was unemployed.

"Sometimes you have to weigh things up but the minute I met Martin in Birmingham and he said, 'Do you fancy it', I said, 'Right, let's go for it'.

"We've good chemistry, I've a lot of respect for Martin and always liked the way his teams played.

"There's little snippets. Martin has got a lot of time for everybody whereas that will probably let me down eventually!"

Keane's admiration for O'Neill was reciprocated yesterday. Fellow former Ireland talisman Liam Brady may wonder aloud as to what Keane brings to the table but O'Neill underlines his worth.

"Roy has been terrific - for myself, the backroom staff and the players," his manager told BBC 5Live.

"He's a bigger influence that even he thinks he has had.

"I stay out of the way when he's angry because he's much stronger than me. As Roy is younger than myself, there is a very decent chance that, if there are fisticuffs, I would come off second best," O'Neill joked.

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