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Everyone's a winner after Keane's shock change of heart

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Roy Keane will be hoping to help Martin O'Neill mould Ireland into a real force. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Martin O'Neill mould Ireland into a real force. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Martin O'Neill mould Ireland into a real force. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

After a week of speculation, there is certainty.

Roy Keane will be at Malahide this evening as the Irish players report for duty ahead of tomorrow's trip to the United States, and he will be on the plane for the second leg of the summer international window.

There was a feeling of inevitability over the past week as Celtic's interest in Keane grew to the point where FAI officials were openly speaking about how much they would miss their No 2.

His change of heart provided a reminder that he retains an innate ability to alter the script.

The decision to stay put with Ireland is a huge relief for his employers and, in time, should prove the right move for the man himself.

GOOD FOR KEANE

The word that Martin O'Neill used last week was 'rehabilitation'.

After two and a half years out of the loop following a bruising experience at Ipswich, this was a job to bring one of the game's most successful players ever out of the TV studio and back into a position where he can influence what happens on the pitch.

When he was asked if a seven-month period consisting of friendly matches and scouting duties was sufficient rehab for going back out on his own, O'Neill admitted that he wasn't sure.

"Your points are valid," he replied. "I don't know."

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Keane has joked about the fact that he's now suddenly in vogue when he was consistently passed over for jobs of similar status in his time on the sidelines. That is true, though.

Positions came up that were attractive to the 42-year-old and he was barely given a hearing. Clearly, the association with O'Neill has had a positive impact.

However, sceptics of a Celtic persuasion did reference his disappointing final days at Sunderland and the inglorious Ipswich exercise when suggesting they were unsure about his candidacy.

Memories aren't that short and the reality for Keane is that he needs his next club to go well or else it will be hard to recover.

Now that he has found a degree of stability working under an experienced practitioner like O'Neill, it may well be the Celtic opportunity came around just too soon.

It is an attractive position, a huge role. Yet, for a manager approaching three strikes and out territory, the potential pitfalls were significant.

Keane would have to hit the ground running in Champions League qualifiers and failure to make it to the group stages would place him under extreme scrutiny from the outset, especially as league success in a weakened SPL is taken for granted.

That would also restrict the freedom to spend money and improve the side, which would breed its own problems.

Then, on a practical level, there's the upheaval of uprooting and moving away from his family again for the intensity of a job that has its downsides from a personal perspective, as his predecessor Neil Lennon discovered.

The indications are that Keane was torn over the weekend, and Ireland's stirring display against Italy on Saturday contributed to that.

Friendlies can be deceiving, but there was a sense in Craven Cottage that this Irish team could be going places.

The chance to continue that progression with two games in the US before heading off to Brazil to cover a World Cup that bridges a good portion of the gap between now and the competitive business in September is hardly the most unattractive proposition.

Then there's the alternative possibility of joining up with Aston Villa as Paul Lambert's assistant, a role that would give him full-time involvement on the training pitch that could be combined with his Irish duties.

Whether that materialises or not, it would be in keeping with an acceptance that he must not rush into his next management position. There's still plenty of time to pursue those ambitions.

Given the manner in which the appointment of the dream team put a spring in the step of Irish fans last November, it would have been an extreme anti-climax for Keane to depart before a competitive match came around.

GOOD FOR IRISH FOOTBALL

O'Neill was an intriguing stand-alone candidate and will make the big decisions, but the Keane element delivered the novelty value to the whole arrangement and that is significant at a time when the stock of the team has fallen.

The FAI is consistently battling an image problem and a dearth of ex-internationals in the overall Abbotstown set-up has been pinpointed as an issue.

In that context, having the biggest name in Irish football at the front of the house is a substantial selling point and he has embraced that role by going around the country and engaging in appearances that go beyond the usual remit of an assistant boss.

That X-factor is significant in a period of FAI history defined by the need to cover the cost of the Aviva Stadium and, specifically, lure supporters back into the venue.

The danger with overplaying the PR aspect is to underestimate his footballing contribution, which is what O'Neill has enthused about.

On match day, the manager comes into his own, but he has praised Keane's presence around the camp.

Players, who were aware of a few scare stories from Sunderland and Ipswich, have been surprised by Keane's relaxed nature.

A number of the younger ones grew up idolising the Cork man and were thrilled by the opportunity to work with him.

Admittedly, Ireland haven't had a match of real substance yet, so it's natural that the mood on the training ground would be quite relaxed, especially in a summer gathering where management are conscious that players are coming off the back of a long season.

Nevertheless, Keane is an active presence during preparations and is understood to have struck up a good rapport with the players.

He doesn't exactly parade the sideline during a match and takes more of a withdrawn position on the bench.

When the opportunity presents itself, however, it is noticeable that he pays particular attention to the players functioning in his old position.

In the earlier friendlies, James McCarthy was pulled aside in stoppages for a chat and, in London on Saturday, Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler were called across for instructions. Both players thrived in the match and the prospect of what is now a promising array of options in that position working under arguably the best ever Irish midfield general is a tantalising one.

In his previous management jobs, Keane had to deal with the business of recruitment, the pressure from owners, a fractious relationship with the CEO at Ipswich, and a variety of other elements.

The specifics of this role allows him to concentrate on bringing his expertise to the training ground and bringing along the next generation. For the respective parties, it should be mutually beneficial.


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