Saturday 20 January 2018

Keane puts trust in players to deal with Bale threat

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during a press conference at FAI National Training Centre, in Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during a press conference at FAI National Training Centre, in Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

We have reached the Gareth Bale phase of the discussion.

A retired world-class player is offering his views on a current player that qualifies for that slightly vague category.

Roy Keane, the Ireland assistant boss, has just stressed that the home players will be encouraged to make life difficult for the Real Madrid star on Friday.

"Don't give him space in behind because the boy can run," he asserts. "Tackle him. Hit him… fairly. Tackling is part of the bloody game."

Naturally enough, the Corkman is asked how he would deal with Bale.

Earlier, we'd already had the mandatory query about his welcome-to-Lansdowne challenge on Marc Overmars back in 2001. How would he stop Bale?

Roy Keane arrives for yesterday’s press conference in Abbotstown. Photo:
Roy Keane arrives for yesterday’s press conference in Abbotstown. Photo: DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE

"He might have been more worried about me," he responds, his face breaking into a smile. "I could play a little bit too you know."


Martin O'Neill's number two is in good form. He bats away questions that he doesn't like, such as whether he retains any lingering regrets about not trying out Spain himself - a topic that he has touched on before in a different forum.

"Ah Jesus lads, where is this interview going here?" he sighs.

"What would have happened Manchester United if they'd managed to nab Bale before he went to Spain?" asks an English voice, seeking an angle for his audience.

"It's well and good thinking you have a deal done but a deal is not done until it's done," he shrugs, "Stupid question of the day. Ah, I'm only joking, it's irrelevant. David Moyes chased a lot of players. I chased a lot of players at Ipswich."

"Is he a loss to the Premier League?" asks another.

"When did he leave?"

"When did he leave? Two years ago maybe?"

"Is that all? It's longer than two years. Google it."

"After you've gone..."

"No, Google it now."

The answer is 2013. Keane is right, although he is non-committal when pressed on if he agrees that Bale is graduated to an elite group alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"It's all about opinions," he says. "What you would say is that he's a world-class player. Ronaldos. Messis. It's all about opinions because he's done it on the world stage."

And that's about as far as he is willing to go; there is praise for Bale but he is not going to get carried away - on either side of any debate - because that's not his role in this gig.

WATCH - Roy Keane emphatically slaps down suggestion that Ireland will play for a draw against Wales

The stronger views tend to be reserved for a TV studio. With the FAI tracksuit on, the brief is more about sending out a message to his players and they will not be entering this test with an inferiority complex - even if a long list of absentees has added turbulence to this week's preparations.

"From our mindset, there is huge respect for him," he continues. "But if you want to go through the Welsh team, they've a lot of good players. I'm sure if Bale was sitting here, he'd say they give him that opportunity to express himself.

"They have good players like Aaron Ramsey, some good defenders, some good lads in midfield. We respect all of their players. A lot of teams will have a so-called star man and Bale is that.

"No doubt it's a good media story, 'How do you cope with Bale?', but we have to have an element of trust towards the players. If you're in the game long enough, (like) Seamus Coleman, the lads can do their own bit of homework on players subconsciously when watching players.

"The top players will find a way and it's about how you deal with him. He's pretty good in the air at set-pieces, good at taking them and getting on the end of them. That's why he's a good player; he affects games."

After swatting away the suggestion that a draw might suit Ireland in the circumstances - with the inventive Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan and Harry Arter all absent - the 45-year-old asserted that Ireland will adopt a positive approach.

Aiden McGeady's name was thrown into the mix and, while he is not guaranteed to start, it seems clear that the in-form Preston loanee has a role to play.

Keane was critical of the 30-year-old before Euro 2016 but respects the steps he has taken to address the slide in his career.

"I was talking about players lacking games," he says. "Aiden's run had gone on for a long time, like Darron Gibson. And there is a time where you do need to get games under your belt.

"Sometimes loan moves don't work out for everybody. It's been a big plus for Aiden, a big plus for us and we're delighted.

"You can tell from Aiden in training, from his body language that he's happier and he's playing regularly. He's added goals to his game and I've seen Preston play a couple of times and you come away thinking Aiden has that bit of quality you don't often get in Championship games.


"Aiden is 30 and in the modern game that's fairly young. The type of player he is, he could play on regularly for years. The key is he's playing regularly and instead of worrying about what's happening next year, he's just worried about what he's doing at the moment."

He is a strong contender for the role at the Aviva, and there will certainly be a prominent one for James McClean who will be coming in off the back of a testing week. The proud Derryman was devastated by the loss of former team-mate Ryan McBride and was also close to Martin McGuinness who had supported him through his various controversies.

Read more: 'I will ignore anything Roy Keane says' - Wales boss Coleman not interested in Ireland assistant boss

McClean was given permission to leave the camp after training yesterday to travel to Derry and offer his condolences to McBride's family - tomorrow morning's funeral will clash with the final session before the game so making that was not an option.

He has requested to wear the number five jersey as a tribute to McBride's regular shirt at Derry and Richard Keogh has agreed to hand it over.

Keane is sure McClean will channel his emotions in the right way once the whistle blows.

"If he played on Friday like he trained today, then I would be really happy," he said.

"It's shocking news but as professionals we do have to get focused on the game. You have to also pay your respects.

"Sometimes you pay your respects by how you play in the game. That is part of our job."

Irish Independent

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