Tuesday 21 November 2017

Keane savouring hands-on role at heart of regime

Ireland No 2 looking for fringe players to put their hands up over the next few weeks and prove that they are ready to play a role in the bigger tests ahead

Roy Keane shares a joke with goalkeepers Rob Elliot (left) and David Forde at the Ireland training session at Malahide yesterday. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roy Keane shares a joke with goalkeepers Rob Elliot (left) and David Forde at the Ireland training session at Malahide yesterday. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

As Roy Keane finished a lengthy autograph signing and photo session with Ireland fans in Malahide and strode in the direction of the microphones to fulfil press commitments, the rain started to trickle down.

"Do you want to go inside, Roy?" asked the FAI press officer, on more than one occasion, as a full-blown heavy shower gathered pace.

Keane refused every offer and simply pulled his tracksuit hood up over his head to battle the elements and bat away any questions that dealt with the matter of his own future. "I'm not taking a paycut for anybody," he joked.

He had cut an animated figure during Ireland's training session beforehand, moving around the group to have individual discussions. At one point, Seamus Coleman was stopped for a demonstrative chat.

SUPPORT

It's clear that the Corkman will have a hands-on role within this regime even if the addition of Steve Walford and Steve Guppy to the staff this week have added to Martin O'Neill's support team.

That's why the assistant boss feels discomfort about heading to Lisbon today for ITV commitments at the Champions League final, an appearance that was in his contract before he accepted the Irish position. "It won't happen again," he stressed, "It's not ideal, but I will be in and out in the one day."

Pressed for a prediction on the Madrid derby, he chose the fence. "I will probably think more about that game later," he asserted.

Preparing for tomorrow's friendly with Turkey has been the priority this week and Keane is encouraged by the strong turnout at a time of the end of season where he knows from experience that it can be difficult for players.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is learning the hard way with his summer squad dropping like flies and family holidays even being offered as excuses. There's a different vibe around Malahide.

"We're delighted with the turnout," asserted Keane, "We know some of the players would be under pressure at club level. We've been delighted for the previous three games as well and long may that continue."

Still, he was also quick to stress that a considerable number of the 24-man gathering in contention for Turkish selection – only one, David Meyler, is a major injury doubt – are arriving after campaigns where they played less football than intended.

"It's a good opportunity for the players as well," he said. "Let's not be kidding ourselves. We shouldn't be getting on our hands and knees when they turn up in the sense that a lot of the lads would be desperate to get games. Some of them haven't played much football.

"It's an important few games for the majority of the players. We know what John O'Shea can do and Jon Walters. For lads that are maybe on the fringes, it's an opportunity for them over the next few weeks to put their hands up and say to the manager, 'Listen, don't be afraid to throw me in when the qualifiers come.'

IMPORTANT

"I don't think many of our lads have played European football or travelled that much. So this is important, it's a chance to play for their country and stake a claim for the qualifying matches. It is an important few weeks. For some lads the mentality might be that it's the end of the season, but most of the lads that we've selected have turned up, so, hopefully, that's a good sign."

There certainly is a contrast in mood between members of the squad that could see action tomorrow. Coleman arrives on the crest of a wave following an excellent season that propelled him into the elite bracket. On the flip side, the unfairly maligned Paul Green is without a club after parting company with Leeds after spending the dying throes of his contract on loan at Ipswich Town.

That's the nature of running an international team at this level and Keane is aware of the contrast having spent the last few months going to matches at both the high end of the Premier League and the lower regions of the Championship. And, of course, there are days when journeys are wasted.

"What you find going to games, is that it's a mixed bag," he said. "Sometimes you've made plans to go and see a player, he's not playing or you get him on a good day or an off day. When you go to watch them, it's not all or nothing.

"We were aware of that when we took the job that when you come together, there's going to be lads coming in with different attitudes. Lads doing well at club level, lads who haven't been playing much. Lads in a different mindset.

"We just have to make sure it's upbeat at training. Short and sharp. We're not looking to flog them, of course not. We're not here to improve their fitness levels. It's just short and sharp. A good spirit. Bit of banter. Short and sharp, the training.

"Hopefully, they're all in good spirits. Some of them have had good seasons, they've had tough seasons, ups and downs like any other footballer. We have people like Meyler and Quinn after the Cup final, people like John O'Shea coming in having got out of the survival race. They're all mixed emotions. It's about making sure that the mentality is right and players haven't switched off."

Turkey are the only Irish opponents in this three-week spell which aren't preparing for Brazil – Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal all have a bigger prize in mind.

The visitors are now managed again by Fatih Terim, who brought them to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 and came back for a third stint in charge last August. Earlier this week, they helped Kosovo more towards official status by taking them on in a friendly and registering a comfortable 6-1 win. Terim is using this period to find out the deficiencies in his squad and O'Neill and Keane have a similar mission.

At this juncture, the build-up has concentrated on the well-being of their own group as opposed to the strengths and weaknesses of the Turks.

"It will be a tough test as they're obviously a top, top team and have some quality players," said Keane. "We were disappointed with the result against Serbia (in March) and we want to bounce back. A win and a good performance would be nice."

Ireland XI (possible) – Forde, Coleman O'Shea, Wilson, Ward; McGeady, Whelan, Quinn, McClean; Hoolahan, Long.

IRELAND V TURKEY, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 1, TOMORROW, 6.00

Irish Independent

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