Friday 19 January 2018

Roy Keane: Why not go for six points?

Assistant boss makes light of skipper's new arrival as he urges Ireland to take risks against Germanswas

Roy Keane answers questions at a press conference in Abbotstown yesterday
Roy Keane answers questions at a press conference in Abbotstown yesterday
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The Keane forecast is good. David Meyler is still conducting press duties when the Ireland assistant boss is summoned for his commitments in front of the cameras.

Keane is relaxed by the delay and jogs to the halfway line for an attempt at the crossbar challenge that had occupied the squad as a warm-down from their training session in Abbotstown.

On Monday, a floated lob from the Corkman was perfectly executed, with the clip that suggested he hasn't lost his touch duly doing the rounds on social media.

This time around, Keane missed his target, and instead decided to aim his next ball in the direction of Darron Gibson, who had just successfully lofted his final attempt against the bar and trotted away with a celebratory hand pointed towards the sky.

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With a smile on his face, the Ireland assistant manager turned around to make his way to the side of the pitch, where he delivered a media update that merged run-of-the-mill injury developments with the usual array of one-liners.

Robbie Keane was absent from training due to a late arrival from Los Angeles that was complicated by his wife Claudine giving birth to their second child.

"Is he available?" the elder Keane was asked.


"Because his wife had a baby. . ."

"Yeah, but he didn't. Unless he's breastfeeding, he should be fine."

That just about summed up the mood of the occasion. Keane deadpanned the queries he deemed irrelevant, and didn't really go into great depth with any answer. With two big matches on the agenda, there was no time for fluff.

The only diversion that briefly piqued his interest was discussion of the latest goings on at his former club Sunderland.

"There's stuff going on in the background that probably needs to be sorted out," he said, before adding a distinctly unsubtle reference to owner Ellis Short. "That will continue as long as there are certain people in the background. That's not going to change. They should have just left me alone. . . I'd still be there."

Instead he is here, assisting Martin O'Neill in preparing a patched-up selection for a date with the world champions. His over-riding message was straightforward enough. If his players go into the match with a fearful attitude, they will fail.

"Obviously there has to be a bit of tension, a bit of nervousness," he cautioned. "And that's good from a player's point of view, it keeps you on edge and it's good for your concentration levels.

"But as a player, you want to play against the best. You test yourself against the best. They should enjoy it, that's what the game is about.

"People talk about bravery in the game. Bravery doesn't necessarily mean in the tackle. It's about being brave in terms of possession, going forward, not be afraid to make a mistake, take risks, forward passing."

It is mentioned that the youthful enthusiasm of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, who both impressed in the defeat of Georgia last month, could be vital.

"Possibly so because of the mindset of those players," Keane replied. "Maybe there's other parts of the game they mightn't be brilliant at in terms of getting the ball back or tackling. You have to bring something to the party and I suppose that is their mindset, being brave and getting forward.

"And whatever's been said, we will get opportunities to do that on Thursday. And that's where the bravery comes in: don't be afraid to make a mistake. Particularly if you're 20 to 30 yards out from goal.

"Listen, I might be jumping out of my seat if the lads are trying something on the edge of our box but further up the pitch, yeah, that's what you're in the team for.

"Take chances, be brave. That's what all the top players in the world are, nice and brave and clever. But there's a time to do it and a time not to do it."

Poland hotshot Robert Lewandowski

As the end of his briefing approached, the members of the Scottish press corps looked for Keane's thoughts on Scotland's chances of curbing the in-form Robert Lewandowski in Hampden Park tomorrow.

"He's in good form," he shrugged, a slight understatement after the Bayern Munich poacher scored 12 in his last four games. "But Scotland at home will no doubt fancy their chances against Poland.

"They have a striker in form, but Poland have a lot of good players. You can't just hang your hat on one player. It's like us with Germany. If you focus on one or two players, they have quality all over the pitch."

He was told that Gordon Strachan is optimistic.

"Well Gordon is bound to say he is optimistic," he responded. "We all are."

Defeat for the Scots will secure third spot, a scenario which O'Neill has said he would be perfectly happy with, given how Group D has unfolded.

Would Keane settle for a play-off now?

"I've not really thought about it too much," he said, refusing to the warm to the theme. "I'm just focusing on the game. Let's see what happens."

He is reminded that second place and an automatic berth in the finals is achievable.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Hampden Park

"Yeah of course, why not?"

"You can take four points?"

"We might get six. Let's go for six. Let's go for six points. It's possible, isn't it? Of course it's possible. Why not go for it?"

"You've seen Ireland get strange results before, beating teams you weren't supposed to beat," said a voice from the throng.

"Exactly," responded the 44-year-old, his face breaking into a grin. "You should be on the staff. Christ. . . sports psychology."

The crowd laughed, content enough with a few humorous sound bites that have given very little away. Keane will never lose the ability to control the circus.

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