Friday 15 December 2017

The king of the one-liner Roy Keane looks back in banter and not anger

Roy Keane answers questions during an interview with Matt Cooper at Barrettstown Talks at the Olympia Theatre
Roy Keane answers questions during an interview with Matt Cooper at Barrettstown Talks at the Olympia Theatre
David Kelly

David Kelly

One might expect that Roy Keane's presence on the Olympia stage might be akin to the annual Christmas pantomime.

Oh no, it isn't.

Nonetheless, the blurring of man and myth, fact and fiction is sometimes lost in a fug of occasionally scabrous one-liners, searing self-deprecation and typically blunt barbs.

Matt Cooper, of the always sharp interviewing technique, plays a commendable straight guy but this is effectively a one-man show and, as ever, Keane is only showing the public what he feels sufficient unto the night to reveal.

Nothing more, nothing less. He is, as always, an actor playing a part. Especially when he is asked a question by an actor who was also recently playing a part.

A part that just happened to be Keane, in the knockabout farce 'I Keano', which the Irish assistant manager watched on this very stage a few weeks back.

"Howya, Roy! I played you on that stage a few weeks ago and I'm just hoping that you enjoyed the show…" one Keane says to the other.

"You didn't get the accent right," the other Keane smilingly responds; two actors at once in coalescing harmony, the real Keane, you sense, even more comfortably acting than the man who usually portrays him.


When he was in his spectacular pomp as a player, many imagined a skinhead Keane rampaging around his house berating toasters and other inanimate objects or indulging foul-mouthed rants if there was no milk left in the fridge.

In private, though, he has no need to perform, he just is.

"People ask me can you be yourself at home," he tells us. "But you're an actor, even tonight I've lights on me on a stage."

This is just an act. Only when he leaves his house must he prepare, as TS Eliot had it, "a face to meet the faces that you meet". Not always with success.

"Last week I was in court for apparently glaring at someone," he informs the captivated crowd to hoots of laughter. Perception clings to him even when divorced from reality.

"I bump into a lot of idiots. They see you playing ten years ago and think you owe them something. I can spot them a mile away, I can tell by the way they're walking up to me. And that's just the women..."

We are getting a reminder that the best qualified person to play the public figure that is Roy Keane in 'I Keano' is, natch, Roy Keane. This is less a career review, more a comedy revue. Gags pepper the two-hour show with the frequency of the curt, short passes or crunching tackles that distinguished one of professional football's most distinguished careers.

The ground covered is familiar - schoolboy rejection in Ireland, belated teenage flowering at Forest, rejection of Blackburn, success at United, flirtations with Bayern, Juve and Real Madrid.

The stories remain much the same but the emphasis is always subtly changing. His relationship with United appears disenchanted but in reality it is merely disengaged.

"It's like all the clubs I played for," he says. "I hope they win but I'm detached. They move on. And I move on with my life." Except sometimes he can't help going back.

As with Alex Ferguson, a relationship now reduced to, appropriately, the status of pantomime; tonight, Keane plays Punch to the absent Scot's Judy. "You know me, I'm not one for holding on to grudges," Keane deadpans. More than once.

He recalls his first meeting with Ferguson, when he gazumped Kenny Dalglish to secure his signature.

"He was okay. We had a game of snooker in his house, I let him win - on the black." Ferguson was a "decent manager", he jests. Dismissing what he terms the "nonsense" of Ferguson's description of the player dragging United to the 1999 Champions League final, he asks Cooper "Which book was that in?" Later, he is forced to concede his own submission to multiple autobiographies.

Myths, like that 1999 one, or his embittered schoolboy international experience - "that was exaggerated, it was more a Cork northside thing than Dublin" - are regularly exploded.

He may be acting but, occasionally, the guard drops. Some events remain immune to myth.

Saipan, for instance. "I'm tired of talking about it, but we're obviously doing this for charity…"

He adds an intriguing new detail about a special drink the squad were ordered to imbibe. "If we didn't, we'd die, they told us." Unfortunately, like the gear and the balls, the drink didn't turn up.

"Well, we had a big squad," to guffaws. "There was always the chance of Jason McAteer going overboard, I suppose." The house is brought down.

He touches on the self-doubt that coursed his injury-strewn later years and the impatience that has increased exponentially in management where, unlike his playing career, there is less certainty, less control over his own destiny.

His current role is Ireland assistant manager and, not surprisingly, it's on this subject that he is reluctant to deviate from a much tamer script.

Should Ireland fail to qualify for Euro 2016 and he and Martin O'Neill are, as expected, sacked, he wonders aloud whether he could steer the ship alone. Ultimately, you leave thinking that being Ireland assistant manager is probably the least convincing role of Roy Keane's career to date.

Roy Keane was speaking at the Olympia Theatre on Thursday in the first of a series of Barretstown Talks public interviews to raise funds for the Barretstown Camps. Barretsown relies on donations to carry on their activities.

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