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Keane's 'distractions' hide Ireland's far scarier truth

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Roy Keane continues to populate the back pages while Ireland's poor form has been pushed to the margins. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Roy Keane continues to populate the back pages while Ireland's poor form has been pushed to the margins. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Roy Keane continues to populate the back pages while Ireland's poor form has been pushed to the margins. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

We live, undoubtedly, in the age of distraction. Just getting to the end of this paragraph will prove a terrible challenge for many of you.

The modern footballer, cosseted by gadgets and agents, inoculated from reality's dull hum by designer headphones, may be the most distracted of us all.

So the suggestion that the Roy Keane media circus is now some sort of unbearable nuisance for Martin O'Neill, and having a negative effect on Ireland's performances in Euro 2016, is bemusing.

Of course, Keane is a distraction. That is one of his primary assets.

As Group D begins to take shape, Keane's function within the Ireland managerial set-up is beginning to become clearer. Obviously, he brings a wealth of tactical and man-management nous to the position from his illustrious playing career and eventful few years in management.

But the media's obsession with his every utterance, and the magnetic pull of drama towards him, gives him a secondary function as a lightning rod for press attention when things get hairy.

On Sunday, Keane was performing the same media duties that Marco Tardelli would carry out during the Trap years, but the argument that broke out about whether Roy is a distraction ensured that Keane would continue to populate the back pages.

The Scotland result changes everything for O'Neill. Maybe there was a feeling of destiny after O'Shea's eleventh-hour heroics in Gelsenkirchen and McGeady's slice of genius in Tbilisi. After Friday, those results seem lucky.

Since O'Neill took over last year, Ireland have won four games (over Latvia, Oman, Georgia and Gibraltar), lost four and drawn four. That's a record as mediocre as Ireland's performance in Glasgow.

There's been no definitive victory yet, no clear stamp of O'Neill. Yes, losing stalwarts like Whelan and McCarthy made getting a result against Scotland very difficult and the run of away fixtures means that patience is required before a verdict on the O'Neill era is writ.

But when Trapattoni was ushered out of Abbotstown, there was a feeling that what Ireland needed most was a manager who appreciated Irish football DNA.

That's why the O'Neill/Keane ticket felt so inspired. But here we are, fourth in the group, with upstart Poland due in Dublin in March. A loss could make everything else moot. Be thankful for the distractions, the reality is far scarier.

Irish Independent