Saturday 25 November 2017

'We have a chance to make an impact. Don't go over there with the attitude that we're just happy to be here'

Keane believes attitude and experience will help to avoid repeating pain of the past

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with (l-r) coach Steve Guppy, Jeff Hendrick, Roy Keane, Jonathan Walters and Robbie Keane in Abbotstown (SPORTSFILE)
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with (l-r) coach Steve Guppy, Jeff Hendrick, Roy Keane, Jonathan Walters and Robbie Keane in Abbotstown (SPORTSFILE)
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"What's the point in turning up if you don't think you can get out of the group?" What else should our target be?"

Roy Keane cut straight to the point when Ireland's expectations in France this summer enter press conference discussion. We know from past experience that he is unlikely to espouse the virtues of a singsong.

Keane's first Irish outing of 2016 presented the opportunity to set the tone of the language for the countdown to Paris.

"The last few months have been nice with the plaudits after the (Bosnia) game, but that's over with now," he said. "All that stops. It's time to refocus on what we can bring to the tournament and have an Irish team we can be proud of."

Earlier, in an audience with broadcast journalists, the 44-year-old had taken the opportunity to answer the latest query from the file marked as 'Saipan questions that do not mention the word Saipan'.

He knows the score, pausing for comedic effect when asked if his input into the facilities for the French build-up has been shaped by his own experiences as a player.

"The right facilities," he starts, listing the requirements. "Have some gear, have some balls - footballs I mean - a decent training pitch."


From there, he went on to tick all the boxes, referencing the quality of the characters in the existing group and their professional attitude.

Martin O'Neill joked when he was appointed that the partnership between himself and Keane could be described as "bad cop and bad bad cop" but they have not been forced to adopt the role of strict disciplinarians because of what the assistant describes as the mature relationship between management and squad.

There is give and take in terms of access to the camp, a contrast from the inflexible approach of Giovanni Trapattoni which posed problems on the run-up to Poland. So, while Wales boss Chris Coleman has banned wives and girlfriends (WAGS) from the Welsh team hotel, Ireland have yet to lay down the ground rules.

"We have not discussed it," Keane shrugged. "I think the manager mentioned in the team meeting (on Monday night) that he would have a look at it closer to the time.

" If there are families nearby, listen, we're working with the senior team and we treat them like men, like adults, and if there are opportunities for the players to see families I think that will be open to the players. As long as it's not silly and three or four days before the game. There is a time and a place for everything.

"If we need to remind anyone, we're going over there to try and do well in the tournament and from my own experience when I've been away, my own family have not been too keen to meet up with me.

"Each family to their own - sometimes they are glad to see the back of you. I don't think it will be a problem for our group."

Later, when he turned his attention to the football side of things, Keane indicated that the mindset of the current manager would ensure that the right mentality is in place.

It was a request to consider how far the group had come since the 'dream team' took over in November 2013 that pushed him off on a train of thought about the bigger picture.

Much as he wants to move on from the congratulatory mood that surrounded this group following their play-off heroics, he admitted that it was a special moment. After a period out of the action, the prospect of going to France has energised him.

"It's exciting. It's what we're in the game for," he said. "The Bosnia experience was fantastic. The country afterwards, the staff. . . brilliant, brilliant times. The bus journey back. This is what you remember.

"Now, we have another chance to have an impact. Don't go over there with the attitude that we're just happy to be here. We can't. Thank God we don't have a manager who thinks that way.

"It's the same with the staff and the players. We are going over there to do the best we can and not come back after a week or two saying 'ah it was a great experience'. No no, we want to stay there as long as we can."

He added that the older members of the group who might consider retiring from the international game are fully subscribed to that line of thought. The injection of fresh faces into the panel for the games with Switzerland and Slovakia feeds into chatter about a possible changing of the guard.

"The manager is still looking at the bigger picture, at the next campaign but I would not be writing off some of the senior players either," said Keane,

"Kevin Doyle has come over from America and I am sure Doyler is chomping at the bit, he always turns up. These players deserve great credit, absolutely. And I don't say that lightly.

"I can be reluctant to give people credit too much but while we talk about what the younger players can bring in energy, these senior players will travel to the Euros and don't think for one minute they will be thinking 'ah well, I'll have a last little tournament'. The John O'Sheas and Robbie Keanes will want to have an impact, absolutely.


"The senior players add so much to the squad. You judge them on what they do on the match days, of course and on the training ground. But around the hotel, we have some good people. That's an important point. You are on about spirit, working with good people

"Whatever you want to do in life, you want to work with good people. We have all got the same aims, there are no hidden agendas and we all have the same targets. And that gives you that bit of energy and push, even through the disappointments, be it the Scotland game, when we first got involved, when we went to America looking at players when we had depleted squads, the tough games against Spain and Portugal.

"We came through it and always felt there's something here to get our teeth into. That's why it's been good in the last few days."

In short, it's a happy family. Rightly or wrongly, Keane is synonymous with anger but, at this moment, his demeanour on Irish duty is cheerful.

"You are not going to win football matches just because you have a good spirit," he says, returning to the original point. "Whatever we say about the group, players have produced bits of quality at the right time.

"Our first target is to get out of the group. Is that realistic? Yes. We have faith in ourselves, we have a brilliant manager, really good characters, good players in the group and experience. Why not?"

Keane on...

Jack Byrne

"He's certainly not shy. He's a Dublin kid, isn't he? Yeah, I didn't think he was from Waterford or Cork. I wouldn't hold it against him but he's obviously a confident lad. Nothing wrong with that. He trained well, he's doing okay. He'll obviously be looking to get involved with the 21sagainst Italy. But he's got a chance - a blind man can see he's a talented boy who can deal with the ball. But you also have to remind these kids sometimes that talent is a very small part of actually becoming a top footballer."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

"I'd like to think I'm better looking than him! He looks a bit of a character. One you'd want to be in the trenches with. He scores goals as well, a big lad and a big character. Again, he's not shy. Pretty confident. One to watch from our point of view; he's a big player for Sweden and we'd have to keep an eye on him"

Harry Arter

"It's unfortunate and I'm sure he's desperate to get one or two games under his belt but he's playing most weeks for Bournemouth. It's disappointing but that is part of the game. He has headed back and hopefully he will have a chance to get involved for the Dutch game. This is not ideal for him but it's not the end of the world and there won't be any doors shut on him because the benefit is he's playing most weeks."

Out of form Belgian players

I wouldn't be too worried about looking at the Belgium players at the moment and going, 'Well, he's had a dip'. That can change very quickly because when you have quality, that quality is always there and you can still turn it on. They'll have a week or two to re-charge their batteries at the end of the season."

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