Tuesday 20 February 2018

Roy Keane: Ask me in a couple of weeks about FIFA, I'm focused on England

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane speaks to the media at Malahide yesterday
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane speaks to the media at Malahide yesterday
Ireland's Shay Given during squad training
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

AS the third attempt to draw Roy Keane into discussion on the FAI's post-Henry handball deal with FIFA kicked off, Shay Given paused his goal-kicking practice to listen in on the media scrum at the side of the Gannon Park training pitch.

If Given had turned on his television in the aftermath of that painful night in Paris, he'd have heard Keane imploring Ireland to get over it, adding that the finger of blame should be pointed at the role of the goalkeeper and his defence.

In the same interview, Keane had scoffed at the concept of John Delaney talking about honesty and integrity.

The wonderfully circuitous nature of Irish football means that almost six years on, the key characters involved are now essentially all in the same camp under the umbrella of the FAI.

Remarkably, Delaney's extraordinary Ray D'arcy Show interview on Thursday has succeeded in completely overshadowing the build-up to a historic meeting with England that his association have been seeking for some time.

Keane knew the issue of the €5 million FIFA 'loan' was going to be on the agenda yesterday when he fulfilled his pitchside media duties as the goalkeepers underwent a light session behind him with the rest of the group bar Wes Hoolahan - who was working on his fitness in the far corner - unwinding with a swimming pool session.

David Forde, rival with Given for the goalkeeping position, also earwigged on the Irish assistant's musings when the opportunity presented itself.


They could sense that Keane was pretty relaxed about the situation, noting the humour in being asked if Delaney was becoming too much of a distraction when that is the question that has accompanied the high-profile number two throughout his tenure as assistant to Martin O'Neill.

"Isn't he always?" replied Keane, with a smile breaking across his face as the cameras flashed.

Shortly afterwards, in a huddle with newspaper reporters, the issue was raised again. The general principle of challenging an outcome after the final whistle of a match was floated.

"Where are you going with this?" he laughed, knowing the answer and raising unrelated examples.

"There was a ladies international game recently (an U-19 game involving England in April where a last-minute penalty was retaken five days later due to a refereeing error) and wasn't there a game between Arsenal and Sheffield United replayed a few years ago (in 1999 after the original match was settled by an 'ungentlemanly' Marc Overmars goal when United had kicked the ball out of play)."

It was essentially a non-answer, though, and the 43-year-old temporarily adopted a defensive stance when it was put to him that the identity of his current employer might restrict his freedom to speak.

"No," he said. "Who's going to? It's never happened before, has it?

"I was expecting it (questions), of course, but we've got a game on Sunday and that's got to be my focus. Listen, there might be a time next week or the week after but all I'm thinking about today is the game.

"I'm not thinking about family, holidays, ye lads, my dogs. I'm thinking about the game because it's my job. If you want to ask me in a couple of weeks about FIFA, sure, I might have a comment but at the moment my concerns are about England on Sunday."

He is certain that the Irish players are in the same bubble. "There seems to be no distractions this week," he continued, with another chuckle.

"Whatever seems to be going on in the outside world. It's like Big Brother back at the hotel, we don't read what you're talking about or writing about. We're very professional people and we're focused on the job. Look at Fordey, training away."

At this juncture, eyes turn to the Galwegian who is standing at a respectable distance wearing a broad grin.

"Honestly, if you ask players, most players, they're focused on their own game," Keane elaborated. "I've been at clubs where distractions about managers, chief executives or a player who's coming or going, it doesn't matter - players can be very much in the zone. I don't know if it's selfish; they've got to get ready for the game on Sunday."

In other circumstances, Keane's views on a joust with England would have box-office potential.

He has, after all, been quite critical of tomorrow's neighbours in his position as an ITV pundit. On the eve of a match with Hodgson's charges, he adopted a more diplomatic tone and swatted away English requests to compare their current team with the collection that flopped in Brazil last summer."

"I've not really thought about it that much," he shot back, "I've not tried to over-analyse the England team. I didn't think they were very good 12 months ago at the World Cup but where does that come into today?"

His general point, however, is that the calm mood around Portmarnock this week has extended to the Sunday lunchtime encounter.


This is indicative of the genuine sense that everyone is on the same page about the importance of the subsequent Scotland battle, an understanding that is believed to extend to ticket sales with confidence the stadium will be packed for June 13 and an element of doubt surrounding the chances of a full house for the so-called glamour tie.

With so much focus on the security operation and the associated noise, chatter about what type of match it will be has largely taken minor billing in previews, especially as past experience has taught us the folly of expecting too much from friendlies.

Certainly, there will be greater incentive for the men in green than, say, the corresponding fixture with Turkey 12 months ago. Yet Keane reckons that any increased sense of urgency will also be driven by competition for places.

"I think if you ask the Irish lads, they'll want to turn England over of course," he muses, "They've got their pride and they know of the players at club level. And, if they get a good result, maybe it will give them a better chance of starting on Saturday."

The scoreless training match with Northern Ireland was useful from a fitness point of view without giving any hint in terms of personnel and O'Neill has asserted the need to try out some patterns of play against the English with relevance to the Scottish tie.

Therefore, it's anticipated that Ireland will kick off with a strong team and then make changes later on. A slow start against Poland in March led to a half-time lecture from management; hence the necessity of being on message from the outset of the next qualifier. James McCarthy grew into that fightback to earn a point and will be under scrutiny here although Keane has called for patience, reasoning that the Everton star is still finding his feet in this sphere.

Jon Walters and Hoolahan are the injury doubts and if tomorrow comes too soon then David McGoldrick, the Ipswich attacker, should come into contention for a second cap after encouraging mentions from both O'Neill and his sidekick.

England's approach will also impact on the degrees of intensity. They are gearing up for a competitive clash with Slovenia, albeit from a position of comfort in a group that the Irish delegation fancied at the qualifying draw in Nice.

With so much focus on what may unfold in the away section, Keane reckons common sense and reasoned officiating will control the temper levels on the pitch.

"Fans will put demands on players," Keane said. "Hopefully the players put demands on themselves so you hope there is an edge but obviously nothing over the top. That's what the referee is there for."

Would he have struggled to maintain his own discipline? Another grin.

"You're probably asking the wrong man," he responded. "I'd probably find that very difficult."

His restraint in dealing with the real news of the day would suggest that Keane does possess the capacity to keep a lid on emotions when the occasion requires it.

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