Martin O’Neill: It took Roy four and a half seconds to say yes
Getting to the Euros in France is our first job, new Ireland manager says at first press conference
MARTIN O'NEILL has revealed how it took his new assistant Roy Keane less than five seconds to agree to join his Republic of Ireland management team.
O'Neill addressed a packed press conference at Dublin's Gibson Hotel with Keane in England preparing to watch Aston Villa's Premier League meeting with Cardiff City this afternoon.
The 61-year-old Derry native spoke in straightforward terms about what is expected from the new team. “John [Delaney] has told me that it's my remit to get to France [Euro 2016],” he said.
He expanded on his reasons for bringing Keane in as his number two, stressing that he had no intention of trying to change the personality of his high profile assistant.
"I did mention to him about the possibility of working with me here, and it took him about four and a half seconds. He was absolutely delighted with it," O'Neill said.
"I said to him the roles that we would have, and he told me that he would reverse those in about 10 minutes.
“I'm absolutely delighted he's on board.
“He's an iconic figure, a great, great player, one of the best players that has played in the Premiership since its inception.
“I see Alex Ferguson has said that Roy might have gone into management too soon. I don't really know that. All I do know from working with him over the last number of years, doing TV work, I've found him very engaging, his thirst for knowledge is amazing, I see him at football matches where there's no need for him to be at games. He loves football. And, like all of us, he's got points to prove.
“I know how brilliant he was and sometimes how polarised opinions can be with Roy but I don't have a problem with that. He'll be great for me, I'll like that, but more importantly for me he'll be brilliant for the Republic of Ireland. I'm not there to change Roy Keane. I want Roy Keane essentially the way he is.”
Both men, of course, played at different stages under the late Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, and O'Neill had little doubt as to what he would have thought of their partnership.
He said: "He would have had some palpitations, I am quite sure, the same man. I think he would have worried for both of us."
O'Neill admitted he had thought long and hard about making the move from club management on to the international stage and the differences between the two before committing himself to a two-year deal.
In announcing the former Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager's appointment on Tuesday, Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney revealed that he had turned down offers from Barclays Premier League clubs to take over the Ireland team.
O'Neill had been out of work since being shown the door by the Black Cats at the end of March, heralding the disastrous, if brief, Paolo Di Canio era at the Stadium of Light.
He remains hugely disappointed by the nature of his exit from the Wearside club, and was less than complimentary about the roles played by both owner Ellis Short and his successor.
Asked if he was re-energised by the challenge ahead of him, he said: "I never lost the energy or the enthusiasm.
"That was someone else's prerogative to do so. I was very disappointed, obviously.
"I felt that my record in the game might suggest that we would have accrued the last five points from seven matches to keep us in the league.
"But the owner chose otherwise and then appointed a manager for about 11 games, who just about criticised everything that went on beforehand. He is not actually in work at the moment.
"It's gone. I never lost the energy, I never lost the enthusiasm. It was always there. That's what keeps me going."
O'Neill was in good form during the broadcast media section of his press duties, cracking jokes at regular intervals and deferring questions to FAI chief executive John Delaney when it suited – including a query about whether Keane could potentially be his successor. “I hope we're not appointing (another) manager for a long, long time, it's as simple as that,” responded Delaney.
O'Neill spoke highly of his predecessor, Giovanni Trapattoni, and refused to get drawn into discussion about what mistakes the Italian might have made. However, he acknowledged that one of his tasks is to attract lapsed fans to the Aviva Stadium.
“I'm hoping, obviously, that they will come back. And the only way for us to bring them back is to win some games and try and win them with a lttle bit of style and panache, if that's at all possible,” he continued.
“ We would obviously want to try and qualify, that's the aim, it's why I'm here, it's why I want to be here. On the way there will be ups and downs, of course, but it's a bit of journey. I'm not here to tell fans what to do. I'm hoping that at some stage they will come back and actually enjoy it.”
O'Neill said that he had an 'open mind' about welcoming absent players back into the fold when asked about Shay Given and Damien Duff – who retired from international football after Euro 2012 – and more pertinently Stoke's Stephen Ireland who has hinted at a comeback.
He suggested that he would assess the possibilities after the upcoming double header of friendlies with Latvia and Poland.
“I would like to get these two games out of the way, start to assess it, and have a look at it,” he said. “If anyone is going to be of value to the set-up here I would certainly have a very open mind, a genuinely open mind.”
One of the criticisms of Giovanni Trapattoni was that he had little regard for the Airtricity League but O'Neill is looking forward to keeping a close eye on the domestic league.
"I'm looking forward to that part of it, genuinely, because you never know because there may be some 18 or 19 year old that has been missed," he added.