Monday 24 June 2019

'We weren't going around knocking on each other's doors and hugging each other! Jesus' - Roy Keane on Bale absence

Roy Keane and (inset) Gareth Bale who will miss Monday's clash
Roy Keane and (inset) Gareth Bale who will miss Monday's clash
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was in bullish form speaking to the media in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

You get the sense that when Roy Keane sticks a finger in the air to test which way the wind is blowing, his will be the only one that dries on the opposite side.

Once a contrarian, always a contrarian, it seems.

Even when he calls for more research into concussion in football, while wishing his retired team-mate Kevin Doyle well - "Health is wealth," is his latest, less quoted one-liner - the frenzied conflation of his remarks about chess seize a virulent, easily-roused nation by the throat.

His words, when parsed by those with the patient inclination to do so, are framed within the gambit of a competitor's canvas; he doesn't belittle the presence of concussion in this sport - or any of the sports he mentioned, from hurling to rugby - but he does frown upon the notion that any competitor will freight those fears with him or her on to the field.

No player would. Just as no player enters the field ignorant of the fact that injury, innocent or otherwise, may occur, neither are so utterly consumed by the thought that they opt not to do so. If they were, then, well, perhaps they would play chess...

It is, as he says so often, the nature of the game. And the nature of the game when he speaks is to shoot first and ask questions later. So it is when Gareth Bale's omission from the Welsh side is confirmed to him.

Shane Long: Sat out training. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Shane Long: Sat out training. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Instead of catching the mood of a nervous nation desperate for any succour in this tensest of international weeks, Keane is urgently dismissive of the suggestion that the galactico's absence will have sent a buzz around the team hotel.

"You are way off the point here, talking about a buzz," he chides, gently, for he is in a becalmed mood, as befitting a side who deep down perhaps know that this week their best, and however they may achieve it, may not be good enough to get what they want.

"This idea of a buzz and that we were going around knocking each other's doors and hugging each other! Jesus..."

Keane's Ireland have their own problems to contend with; the ongoing absence of their own singular world-class and only composed player, Seamus Coleman, a constant bugbear, now compounded by injuries and suspension this week to a variety of others of varying ability.

James McClean, Jonathan Walters and Robbie Brady will miss Friday's game against Moldova, he is reminded. "Yeah, I didn't even mention them…the buzz we had this morning is gone now!"

So fretful about the task of dismissing Moldova, at home, the cliché of taking one game at a time is clung to as feverishly as a toddler might clutch a comforting blanket. Ireland are incapable of swagger; much more adept at portraying a stagger.

Such has been the mood music this week, much of the focus has swirled around two untested and untried strikers who may, somehow, be able to acquire the talent of getting into the penalty area and putting the ball in the net, even though the rest of the team still seem clinically incapable of getting the ball into the penalty box to begin with.

Keane is tasked with surveying the limited endeavours of a squad already limited in terms of real quality and seems hopefully - or is it hopelessly - reliant on the prospect of unearthing a "fox in the box" who can do what Shane Long, for example, hasn't done now for some nine months.

Keane retains his faith in the misfiring Long who, as it happens, sat out training, fatigued after playing for "100 minutes" last weekend in another of those determinedly doughty, if goal-less, toils for which he has endeared himself to so many.

"Obviously you want your players to hold it up and you want them running down the channels. But there have been a number of times when we have had balls going into the box and you're just waiting for a player to make the right run or just get on the end of it.

"And maybe these lads will bring that to us. Instead of being our main striker this Friday night, if there is 15 minutes to go and we are putting balls in the box, is anyone getting on the end of it? We have just not had someone of that nature.

"It's something different to the others. Jonathan Walter. Shane Long, who is good at stretching teams but sometimes you need that fox in the box.

"Certainly Seanie Maguire and Scott Hogan have that in their DNA. Whether they can go and produce it at international level, it is easier said than done."

One wonders what is the more terrifying prospect; hastily casting forlorn eyes to the bench in a desperate attempt to break down a stubborn Moldovan rearguard or finding upon it a cast of inexperienced candidates.

The endgame against the ten - effectively nine - men of Serbia heightens the anguish; Keane officiated over the inexcusably panicked conclusion to that fraught night, with shots peppering the upper reaches of the stands from all angles as Ireland fumbled inexpertly for the key to a shaky defence.

"I wouldn't say I was pulling my hair out on the sideline saying players were always making the wrong decision," he demurs, worryingly. Rather than not demanding any better, perhaps he didn't expect anything better.

"There were times in the last ten minutes when lads were maybe shooting when it was time to pass, or passing when it was time to shoot, that is when decision-making comes into it. If the goal doesn't come, we then need to be patient."

Patience doesn't sit easily with Paddy, though; the Irish admire graft as much as craft. Keane, obviously, would like to see more brain than brawn. It is now his job to encourage this; safe to say, the results have been mixed.

"We have seen James McClean make challenges before for Ireland where you are going, 'Ah maybe'. Listen, I am a fine one to talk about challenges.

"We are here to help them and get certain things right but ultimately with a player, when they are on the ball, that is where football intelligence comes into it.

"And when you are on the sideline and you see the player cross it when they should take a touch, or touch it when they should cross it first time, that is when you hope the players will learn themselves.

"But we are here to encourage them to make the right decision but ultimately it is not in our hands. We are here to help the players.

"If you look at the effort against Serbia it was there, just showing that bit more quality. Also, with the goal we conceded, it's about better communication, smelling danger, all that goes into the mix in tough international matches."

Ireland's recurrent problem is that they make tough international matches even tougher than they already are. Even, as Keane nervously anticipates, against Moldova.

Irish Independent

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