Saturday 7 December 2019

Troubled by belief that friends of McCarthy are everywhere

Roy Keane awaits the kick-off of Ireland's friendly against the USA. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roy Keane awaits the kick-off of Ireland's friendly against the USA. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Sports cartoon

Dion Fanning

Just after the draw for the European Championships last February, Roy Keane talked to the media at Ireland's training base in Malahide.

In the course of these duties, which involved looking forward to the game a couple of days later against Serbia, he explained that he wouldn't "be getting bogged down" in discussions with clubs about the availability of players. "Martin will speak to the clubs but my job is to work with the players who are here. The players who aren't here won't be keeping me awake at night. Trust me."

As Keane finished with the media, one journalist felt there was a final point to make about the European Championships draw. Straining for a link, as we are required to do in our industry, he attempted to make a jocular connection between one of the teams in the group and one of the issues from Keane's past.

"Roy, Roy," he shouted out. "Gibraltar . . . Rock of Gibraltar." Probably understandably, Keane didn't respond but as he walked away was heard to mutter, "Fucking idiots."

In these straitened times, journalists can no longer tell anecdotes of the three days they spent on a bender with George Best, but we will huddle together and tell this story against ourselves, laughing at the lengths we will go to for a link, viewing the world as a series of inter-connections always within our grasp, and laughing too at Keane's view of journalism and maybe Irish journalism in particular.

Few would blame Keane if there are occasions when he finds it hard to distinguish between the media and the man dressed as a leprechaun promoting The Sun who told him to cheer up in Dublin Airport before the flight to Saipan. "I've got two bloody leprechauns telling me to 'Cheer up Keano'. I thought 'I'll f***king knock you out, you stupid c***'," Keane would subsequently tell Paul Kimmage.

Keane might have noted his own restraint on that occasion and it would be unsurprising if he looked at the coverage of his row with Philip Quinn of the Daily Mail and Paul Lennon of The Star last week and wondered what all the fuss was about. They had asked questions they were entitled to ask and Keane had done what he tends to do, which is find a way of not answering the question in a way which is more interesting than if he had answered the question.

Many noted that he had simply refused to answer a similar question when it was put to him by a man from Sky earlier, but that is to expect consistency and also to misunderstand Keane's relationship with the Irish media.

It is customary to say that Keane has a contemptuous view of the press and last Sunday in Portmarnock, he talked again of 'pals', a word he spits out with the same contempt he reserves for smalltalk.

Of course, it is always more complicated than that. Keane was asked last month if John O'Shea had objected to the description in the book that he had played like a "fucking clown", and he replied that "Sheasy's got a brain, he knows what I was saying, unlike the rest of you". In many reports, the 'he knows what I was saying' portion was left out, leading to predictable headlines, and Keane later asked FAI officials to make it clear to reporters that he didn't intend to insult them with his remarks.

Keane does make the process of acquiring friends and acquaintances sound like contemptible alliances, even if his own relationship with the media is far more intense and far more obsessive than those who have managed to moderate it through the acquisition of a few pals.

For the most part, Keane will accept none of the compromises that acquiring 'pals' in the media involves. Instead he will use them in a different way, while the media in turn use him as the coin-operated headline generator which is in danger of becoming his main role in the Ireland set-up, just as it has become his main role in public life.

Keane seems happy to absorb these contradictions as he absorbs all the others that he has gathered as he moves through life.

He might have prevented further scrutiny for Martin O'Neill and Ireland's failings in the Scotland game with his comments on Sunday but they weren't intended as a distraction.

Roberto Martinez questioned what capacity Keane was speaking in last week but if Keane sounded like anything, it was a man who still talks like a player, relating the Everton situation to his own at Manchester United. When he was a player, he spoke with an authority greater than an ordinary player so maybe he has remained consistent while the world shifts uncomfortably around him.

But today Keane wants to be something other than a former player at war with the world, or that portion of it controlled by Alex Ferguson. At least part of him does and there is no question that when he is with the Irish or Aston Villa squads, Keane does exactly what Martin O'Neill and Paul Lambert hoped he would do.

Villa have succeeded in making that almost the entirety of his role but Keane's relationship with Aston Villa and Birmingham is not his relationship with Ireland.

For years, he was an exiled leader telling us from Ipswich or Sunderland how we should live, which events we should get over in 72 hours, and which events were still worth discussing many years later.

Now he is back among us, looking at the same people he viewed warily during a barbecue in Saipan, seeing a shared history but a troubled one and believing that the friends of Mick McCarthy are everywhere.

In exile, he had railed against the forces of eejitry but his return has necessitated compromises with the forces he once opposed.

Keane is most believable as an outsider but now he is an unconvincing company man. Management requires an actor's skills and Roy Keane is only believable playing himself.

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