Monday 19 March 2018

O'Neill: Latest Roy Keane saga 'a mountain out of a molehill'

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill during yesterday’s press conference at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill during yesterday’s press conference at the Aviva Stadium.
Roy Keane watching the Stoke v QPR game on Saturday

Garry Doyle

As a former law undergraduate and obsessive criminologist, Martin O'Neill knows a thing or two about mounting a case for the defence.

Perhaps it is just as well. When Roy Keane is your assistant, character references are frequently requested. And so it was that last November, O'Neill was called upon to deflate the hype surrounding Keane's row with Frank Gillespie, a man who claimed to be "one of Ireland's best supporters from the last 20 years".

A month later, when Keane was door-stepping Tom Cleverly to discuss the source of a number of leaked stories about the Corkman's behaviour at Aston Villa, veteran observers loudly wondered whether Keane's presence on the Ireland managerial ticket was worth the hassle.

Those voices were raised again on Friday, after Keane was involved in an alleged road-rage incident with Manchester taxi-driver Fateh Kerar.


"The phrase mountain out of a molehill comes to mind," O'Neill said of this latest saga to surround his No 2. "When the full information comes out, I think we will see how the story has been exaggerated."

If those words sound broadly familiar, it is because they are. For Kerar now, think of how O'Neill reacted to the saga involving Gillespie at the team hotel in November. Whether he likes it or not, O'Neill now knows the behaviour of his assistant generates more publicity than the results of his team.

"I have said this before. And I will say it again. I have not found the publicity surrounding Roy a distraction," O'Neill said yesterday. "It's just the way it is.

"I have not found this latest incident a distraction. In fact, I haven't found any of the stories about Roy to be a distraction. It is simply always going to be the case that Roy Keane will arouse public interest.

"If, for example, he walked down to the shops, you'd have such an interest in it, with people wondering what he's bought and then being critical of his decision to go for bananas instead of apples or something like that. So I genuinely don't have a problem with the publicity as long as he stays good for Ireland."

Quite how Keane good is for Ireland in his assistant managerial role is hard to pinpoint. By contrast, when he was a player, his contribution to the national cause was there for everyone to see. It was visible in every tackle, every delivery and every decision. Yet the job of an assistant manager is an ill-defined one.

"Well, I think if you ask the players about him, they would say he has been an excellent help to us all," said O'Neill. "He has a great presence, particularly with players who have been very impressed by his football ability and what he achieved for club and country.

"He does not show the type of arrogance that seems to be associated with him, quite the opposite, in fact. What I have found is that he has been very amenable to players who may have been in a bit of awe, or even a wee bit scared, of him in the first place.

"Now, they have no problem whatsoever in approaching him and asking for some advice. The time that we have with the players when we are here, he does that very well. But what he also tries to do is to grab hold of a couple of the players to speak to them about the Poland game. He has no problem getting the north-western boys together, particularly Darron Gibson, to have a conversation with them to see how they are, that type of stuff.

"So to me, what happened on Friday is not an issue. If a situation arose where something might get out of hand, then it becomes a different situation, but the things that have happened so far, I haven't considered distractions.

"And I bet it won't be the last altercation he'll be in again between now and the end of this campaign. I'll give him until next weekend," O'Neill smiled.

"I mean, seriously, do you think Seamus Coleman is actually concerned this morning about whether Roy has had some sort of altercation with a taxi man in Manchester?"

Life was altogether simpler for O'Neill when he just had the results of a few football matches to discuss.


But these days every press conference passes as a renewal of his vows with the FAI. Accused of not being enthusiastic about the position, he spoke animatedly yesterday about his pride in holding down the most demanding soccer job on the island.

"Honestly, I am really honoured that I was chosen here. That has not changed. I am really looking forward to the job and it would be great if we could qualify.

"Also, I don't see other managers coming around and putting themselves under that sort of pressure. Every time I see at club level when somebody doesn't win a game or two games, they find themselves talking about long-term projects.

"I should give you a spiel about long-term projects and how I want to be here for the next 48 years. But I want to win, think we can win, think we can qualify and I will do absolutely everything in my power to do so. I am far from downbeat. I am completely the opposite, I really am."

Martin O'Neill was speaking at the launch of the FAI's sponsorship deal with Spar

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