Tuesday 18 June 2019

Comment: He's handsomely paid and has his name in lights, but it's time to ask whether Roy Keane is worth the hassle

 

‘This role seems to suit Keane. Whatever ‘this’ entails’. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
‘This role seems to suit Keane. Whatever ‘this’ entails’. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

We are trying to make out a distinctive figure at Ireland's training base - as opposed to the distinctive figures who are not at Ireland's training base.

"Can anyone see him?"

"Yeah, there he is! Long coat and cap... always the long coat..."

"Would be some story if Roy Keane wasn't here!"

But there he is, in familiar garb. And when he is here, Roy Keane remains the story.

The session is, unusually, open to the collective media for an hour, rather than the usual 15 minutes of light jogging and stretching.

Part of a "new regime", according to someone in the camp.

Mmm. Really?

Of course, this is not a new regime at all, as regime change would have decreed a renewal in management - which neither the headmaster nor his assistant asked for, never mind the board of governors. But if it is a regime change in other respects, this was not an auspicious inauguration.

For all the insistence by the Irish yesterday of a seemingly impregnable "bond" within their squad, two of its recent members have decided, for different reasons, to exercise a choice not to return to it for the foreseeable future.

An Irish team with a recurring absence of a regular goalscorer - compounded by the injury this week of an irregular one, Shane Long - can ill-afford the impromptu exit stage left of that singular rarity, an Irish-qualified Premier League player. Never mind two of them.

And, while there already has been much clamour about the morality of Declan Rice's choice and the character required for Harry Arter to amend his, it is Keane's name who will remain inextricably linked in the public's mind with both absentees.

He has definitely been implicated in the temporary exile of the fitful if talented midfielder Arter - this much was confirmed by manager Martin O'Neill yesterday.

However, it remains to be ascertained whether Rice's sudden bout of self-doubt about his international future had anything to do with the row.

O'Neill positively refuted this suggestion yesterday, anxious to stress the point after it had been reported that Rice, not Arter, had been the subject of Keane's ire.

Nevertheless, even if Rice was not the object of the Corkman's Vesuvian eruption, it would still be quite revealing indeed to determine the youngster's response to the entire incident.

That the row involved two squad players who are also English-born may be delving too deep into the realms of conspiracy theory, but had this issue not arisen in the first instance there would have been no need for Irish fans to debate it.

Conflating the two absentees is not necessarily fair - O'Neill correctly stressed that they were different cases: Rice must decide between two countries; Arter has for now opted for Cardiff over Ireland.

Yet the fact remains that both men have made a choice this week - opting not to join in with a squad that we are repeatedly being told has a "strong bond".

Not so sturdy, it seems, that a row can suddenly have such potentially far-reaching consequences for its supposed unity.

Rice may well decide that his future lies with England.

However, it would be a catastrophic own-goal if his thought process was in any way prompted by concerns that the Irish squad he might have been returning to this September was so vastly different in character than the one he left in May.

And so once more O'Neill has had to publicly defend his assistant, almost five years after he was first prompted to do so when an irascible autograph hunter indicated the ability of Keane to command the attention of the news cycle.

Quite how much he commands the attention of his squad is another matter entirely.

Players routinely record how he serves as a motivational figure who can lead by saying something inspiring, but rarely reveal anything that might relate to him actually doing something inspiring.

Before the play-offs, this newspaper tried to ask him what he actually does and he responded in good-natured fashion by claiming he made a nice cup of tea.

It was humour masking reality, but perhaps it was hiding a deeper truth. And so we persisted.

"Very little! Honestly, we don't do too much," he said.

"A bit of light training, very little, very little. I'm not sure what I'm doing here to be honest with you!"

Nice work if you can get it, even nicer with a pay cheque nearer €700k than €600k dropping into the college fund every year.

Even if Keane's work is a little more elaborate than his self-deprecating description - perhaps he makes neat coffee too? - it could soon be time to wonder whether all the hassle is worth it?

Keane was once a manager himself and O'Neill's clever stroke in convincing him to become his assistant seemed like it was a route for him to return.

However, this role seems to suit Keane. Whatever 'this' entails.

Mostly it has seemed to be reminding poorer players than Keane just how much sacrifice and dedication it takes to try to become what he used to be.

If the price worth paying is the occasional bust-up or walk-out, everyone's happy.

But the problem is that everyone is not happy, are they?

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