Monday 14 October 2019

Keane only interested in those committed to Ireland

Ireland assistant manager Robbie Keane. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland assistant manager Robbie Keane. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

John Brennan

For almost an hour last week, Ireland's assistant manager Robbie Keane held court in front of the media.

He was speaking at Crumlin Children's Hospital as part of his role as Euro 2020 Ambassador and no subject was off limits. His work with Mick McCarthy now, the offer of a job with Middlesbrough, the idea that he would one day manage Ireland, how he wants the game to be played.

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Only once in that informative 60 minutes, peppered with wit and a few droll observations, did Ireland's record goalscorer step out of his comfort zone. That was when it was put to him that Ireland needed Patrick Bamford, the Leeds United striker, who qualifies to play for Ireland.

The four strikers who had started or sat on the bench for Ireland against Gibraltar have yet to score an international goal and none could manage it against Europe's whipping boys last Monday.

Bamford scored nine times in 22 appearances for Leeds in the Championship last season and there is an argument that, had he not been injured or suspended for the remaining 24, more than half the games in the league, Leeds would have secured automatic promotion to the Premier League instead of losing out in the play-offs.

But Keane does not accept that McCarthy and the FAI should now pursue Bamford, who has been silent on the prospect of playing for Ireland ever since meeting McCarthy earlier this year.

"I am genuinely not interested," said Keane. "If he doesn't want to play for us, no problem, we will get players who want to play for us. He is an English player. We shouldn't be chasing people. That's what fucking winds me up. We shouldn't be chasing people. They should want to play for us. If they don't then no problem. Why should we go and chase people? We are fucking Ireland. We have qualified in the last few years for two Euros, we were in the World Cup in 2002.

"If you want to come, come," added the 38-year-old. "Represent your country and be proud to play for your country. If you don't, don't waste anybody's time. Don't waste the manager's time. And I am not speaking specifically about Bamford. I am talking about everybody. Anybody. Don't just use us as a tool if you like for maybe other countries to come in for you. Be proud of your country. Be proud to play for Ireland."

But we have always needed English-born players, including some of the best players ever to wear the green jersey. "That has always been the case for years, but all those people wanted to play for us. They loved playing for us. They loved coming over, they loved being part of it and that was great."

But Keane knows Ireland still needs to do more in terms of developing players. "We have to make sure we try to help them," he says. "So this issue doesn't arise because we have got our own people."

Keane also believes that players should not be allowed to change allegiance after playing for the senior team in a friendly international.

"No," he says, "it should be the way it was years ago, it's fairly simple isn't it. Jesus Christ, you can't do that. Once you play a senior game, that's it."

But that's not the way it is now, and every time an English-born player comes into the Irish set-up, the 'will-he, won't-he' stuff will start as it did with Declan Rice, and Jack Grealish too.

"You talking about Luca? (Luca Connell, the 17-year-old Bolton Wanderers midfielder who was part of Ireland's training camp in Portugal last month). "I'm telling you right now, he'll play for us. He loves it here. He enjoyed being here. He was buzzing in Portugal. He was playing well, enjoying it and would have stayed for the qualifiers, but for picking up an injury."

But Declan Rice was enjoying it as well and we all know what happened.

"I don't know Declan Rice. I never met him, apart from this one time with Mick. I've met this lad Luca. I've been in the camp with him for 10 days. You get a feel for people. I guarantee you 100 per cent he is desperate to play for Ireland. And he's got a chance. he's a great footballer and he's a lovely lad as well."

Keane also revealed that his contract with the FAI is for longer than Mick McCarthy's, which ends whenever Ireland exit Euro 2020.

"It is for a few years," he says. "The FAI want me to stay on here. My contract is longer than the manager's. I will be here. If they don't want me, no problem."

But all of that leads to the obvious question: how he would work with Stephen Kenny? Would he become his assistant, or follow him in as Under-21 boss with the notion of succeeding Kenny eventually as part of a longer term view?

"I am thinking about none of that now, I'm here to assist Mick, to try and qualify for the Euros so we will see after that, I am not trying to dodge the question or anything like that. So, we will see what happens in the future."

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