Monday 22 July 2019

‘We need more from our senior players’ - Roy Keane demands response from experienced Ireland performers

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

James Lawton

Champions League final week. Kiev is where the football elite are stationed.

Roy Keane used to expect to be in that company. Instead, he will watch tomorrow's decider in a hotel in Paris as the assistant manager of an Ireland squad preparing for a Paris date on Monday.

Granted, that game will feature some of the world's top performers, and they will all be representing the hosts. It will be a daunting challenge.

There is a casual reference to the fact that the final Ireland squad consists of just three front players. "Yeah, but how many strikers do you need for France?" Keane replies.

"Funny enough, I bumped into Gordon Strachan the other day in the airport after the game and he was talking about Scotland playing France maybe two years ago when they were on their way to the Euros.

"I think France beat them 3-0 and it could have been 15, so yeah, it's difficult to play the game when the incentive is on them leaving on a high going into a tournament. So we know it's going to be difficult. But it's still a good game if you put yourself in some of the players' shoes. You'd want to play in this game."


Ireland would prefer to be preparing for a World Cup, of course, and this is Keane's first lengthy press event on home soil since the devastation of that night against Denmark.

"You had to bring that up," he says with a wry smile, when the possibility of that defeat leading to a rebuilding job is raised.

"Rebuilding? I think that's a difficult word to use because there are only a certain number of players we can use. That's the nature of the game, lads will be retiring, lads coming through.

"You're always hoping and praying more players will be involved at Premier League clubs. That's not a criticism of players playing in the Championship. But to give us a better chance, we need more players in the Premier League."

In March, Keane was in Turkey for a 1-0 defeat that was notable for a Declan Rice debut and a step forward in the careers of Championship players Alan Browne, Conor Hourihane, Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire.

The latter is out of this gathering with a hamstring issue while Villa pair Hourihane and Hogan are preparing for a Championship play-off final and are likely to miss Paris, although Saturday week's friendly with the USA could still be viable.

That match in Antalya was underwhelming, save for Rice's showing. He's here again this week with Keane swiftly dismissing a bizarre comment from West Ham co-owner David Gold which suggested they wanted Manuel Pellegrini to turn him into an England player.

"It's going to be pretty difficult if he's Irish - and he is Irish. He plays for Ireland," Keane shrugged. "It's pretty straightforward, isn't it?"

The likes of Browne and Hourihane did find it tough in Turkey, but Keane's takeaway from the trip was that he expected more from the senior members of the squad.

That trip was Seamus Coleman's comeback and he was eased back in with just an hour's involvement. Jeff Hendrick, Shane Duffy and James McClean were the other established players that started with Shane Long involved as a sub.

"We're talking about young lads going to Turkey from the Championship. What do you think? Give them a chance," Keane continued.

"That's where the senior players set the tone, whether it's in training or how they play in the games.

"After the Turkey game, while you're disappointed at the loss, I was more disappointed with the senior players rather than the new lads who were finding their feet. You need a helping hand along the way.

"It's not the new faces but the lads who've been around for a while, you want more from them because they are setting the tone."

Those words will be noted as Ireland move forward. Keane always returns to character when his opinion is sought on what the group needs to become successful.

Shane Supple's presence in the squad yesterday brought him into contact with an individual who walked away from the sport in 2009 because he wasn't happy with the culture.

He respects how Keane - who was then his Ipswich boss - dealt with it. And O'Neill's number two was struck by Supple's honesty.

"He'd obviously been thinking about it a long time and you have to admire people like that," he said.

"It's come full circle for him now, I suppose, and it's a great story from his point of view."

That led to a broader chat about the pitfalls of the profession, the stories that are normally associated with ex-pros struggling to come to terms with their change of status.

Darron Gibson's recent travails were also mentioned, although Keane did not wish to comment on his case.

"I think there's a lot more awareness over the last few years of people struggling in the game," he said.

"Depression has been brought up. Addictions. Mental health, I think, people are aware that it's not always about blondes and Bentleys. Injuries can be a trigger for things.

"Listen, if you go to work every day and you can't do what you're supposed to do, I'm sure that leads to frustration, a bit of boredom. And there's a lot more help there for players, which is great."

The chat meandered from there back to the comfort of football matters that are trivial in comparison.

It's only natural that Keane would yearn for involvement in games like tomorrow's decider in Kiev but time waits for no man.

Ireland squad - Goalkeepers: Colin Doyle, Conor O'Malley, Shane Supple

Defenders: Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty, John Egan, Shane Duffy, Kevin Long, Darragh Lenihan, Declan Rice, John O'Shea, Enda Stevens, Derrick Williams, Greg Cunningham

Midfielders: Callum O'Dowda, Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler, Eunan O'Kane, Alan Browne, Shaun Williams, James McClean, Daryl Horgan

Forwards: Jonathan Walters, Shane Long, Graham Burke

Irish Independent

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