Friday 18 October 2019

Kevin Palmer: 'Roy Keane will be seething, but at last the most torturous 12 months in our recent history is at an end'

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

PENNY for your thoughts Mr Keane.

A little over a year ago, bookies had the icon filling the role of Ireland assistant manager as a short-odds favourite to succeed Martin O'Neill as Ireland manager, with Roy Keane's reincarnation from bad-boy to positive influencer all-but complete as he appeared to be filling the role few believed he was cut out for with professional aplomb.

In public at least, there was barely any murmurs of discontent with an A-list sidekick who appeared to be edging himself into pole position to land a managerial post he had always craved and now, after a week of frantic change at the top of Irish soccer, Keane finds himself looking on as his most-loathed nemesis takes the job he dared to believe could be his.

Once Keane's infamous spat with Harry Arter (below) and Jonathan Walters from last summer was exposed so brutally and accusations of bullying in the workplace were thrust his way, any hope he had of becoming Ireland manager evaporated.

A falling out between Roy Keane and Harry Arter was revealed on WhatsApp. Photo: Sportsfile

That Mick McCarthy is the figure who has emerged from the melee Keane helped to create to make a return as Ireland manager 16 years after he left the post will add salt to already stinging wounds.

Keane has been kept away from the press conference microphones that used to be his platform for all things venomous since that Arter/Walters row exploded and while we will all wait for his comments on McCarthy's return to the Ireland job with relish, we don't need to be told how he must be feeling now.

Keane will be seething, as he tends to be most of the time anyway, and yet there is no need for the rest of us to have negative feelings towards a returning manager who has has the capacity to inject the joy back into a national team that has forgotten how to smile in the last year.

The campaign for Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny to be handed the chance to lead Ireland into the Euro 2020 qualifiers gathered momentum in the last 48 hours, but FAI chief John Delaney clearly felt that bold move was a risk too far and opted to fall back on his old pal McCarthy in the hope that stability will trump freshness.

Those who are disappointed by Kenny's snub will fume, but there is no reason to feel anything but optimism as the most torturous 12 months in the recent history of the Ireland national team is now at an end.

It was only last Monday that the nation was forced to sit through what proved to be the final, agonising instalment of the O'Neill era, with his comments after the game confirming he had no intentions of walking away from a job he no longer had a mandate to continue in.

Unexpectedly, O'Neill and his sidekick Keane were gone the next day, with McCarthy and Kenny quickly emerging as the two men battling it out for the top job.

Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny were the leading candidates to replace Martin O'Neill

If Delaney was testing the waters of public opinion as those two names were leaked to the media on Thursday, he didn't wait for long to make his decision and before leaping to sweeping conclusions on McCarthy's return as Ireland boss, let's wait to see what brief he will be given.

After months of chaos on and off the pitch, Delaney has re-hired what many will view as the safe option in McCarthy and while some may have wished for more radical change, we should not have to view this highly respected and successful manager in a dim light.

Here is a tactician who took Ireland into the knock-out stages of the 2002 World Cup and a manager who has guided two clubs to Premier League promotion in England, with his passion for the Irish cause burning as brightly now as it did when he won each of his 57 caps at international level.

This is a man supremely qualified for the Ireland job, a man who knows the landscape of Irish soccer as well as anyone in the game and could well have the gravitas as power of influence to instigate the kind of changes so many have been calling for in the corridors of power at the FAI.

While the link between the senior international team and the underage sides has been hard to identify during O'Neill reign as Ireland boss, McCarthy may well have the passion and drive to get his teeth into the fabric of the Irish game and use his decades of experience into an FAI set-up in need of modernising and refreshment.

He needs to reshape a rebranded DNA into Irish soccer, identify how we should play and promote what we can do rather than highlight the negatives, as O'Neill did far too often.

McCarthy is so much more than a smiling face and a chirpy character and while the aforementioned Keane would be the first in the queue to belittle his abilities, this 59-year-old has the energy and drive to breath fresh life into a job he has wanted a second shot at from the moment he walked away from it 5,863 days ago.

Keane divided the nation when walking out of Ireland’s training camp in Saipan ahead of the 2002 World Cup following a row with manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Andrew Paton/INPHO via Getty Images

Back then, Keane was the primary reason for McCarthy's exit after their infamous spat in Saipan dominated the Irish agenda for the months that followed, so the irony that his return to the Ireland job comes primarily because of Keane's own fall from grace will not be lost on anyone in this drama.

Delaney and McCarthy may well share a smile at Keane's expense when they are reunited, but the bigger picture here should to be that these two men now need to instigate change in our game from top to bottom.

Whatever reservations you may have about their ability to do just that, this is the moment to embrace change and dare to believe we can watch the Ireland team from a more comfortable location than behind our sofas next year.

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