Rehab of Roy has happened quicker than expected
For Martin O'Neill, a hypothetical debate has quickly developed into a real problem, a dilemma that could break up the FAI's dream team before they oversee a single competitive match.
It was last Thursday, in the hours after Neil Lennon's departure from Celtic, that O'Neill was first asked by a TV reporter about the possibility of his assistant Roy Keane taking the reins at Parkhead.
At that juncture, it was a media-driven story that continued through the next 48 hours with the Corkman asserting that he already had a job, FAI CEO John Delaney stressing that he was unworried about speculation, and O'Neill then saying on the eve of the Turkish match that he wouldn't stand in Keane's way if an offer materialised. He was effectively being forthcoming out of politeness.
"I didn't give it a great deal of thought," confessed the Derryman last night. "I've been in these situations before. When they arise, I deal with it."
He didn't have to wait long. Earlier this week, Dermot Desmond, majority shareholder of Celtic, who appointed O'Neill as Hoops boss in 2000 and played a significant role in constructing the Irish ticket, called the 62-year-old to speak about the high-profile No 2 and his suitability for the seat vacated by Lennon.
"He (Desmond) was asking in a general point about Roy's managerial quality," said O'Neill. "I've often said here that he'll be a manager again himself. I just didn't expect it that quickly."
That chat set the wheels in motion with O'Neill suggesting that Keane had an informal chat with Desmond on Wednesday night. He then discussed the issue with the Irish manager in their Portmarnock base yesterday.
"He'll keep me in the loop," continued O'Neill, stressing that Keane hadn't been offered the job and Celtic might have other candidates in mind – that is the official line from the Scottish club's HQ – while also hinting that ultimately the next step may be determined by the ex-Man United captain's thought process.
"Obviously, I'd like him to stay for every reason under the sun," said O'Neill. "He's thinking things over, he's a lot to think about, including, I know, a number of other offers as well. I would be disappointed, obviously, if he's gone, but a club like Celtic is a very, very big club and maybe sometimes those particular offers might not come around too often."
It is a remarkable development in the incredible story that is Keane's relationship with the FAI. O'Neill has admitted he underestimated the extent to which chatter about his No 2 would dominate discourse and while he impressively dealt with a range of questions in an unscheduled press conference, he was taken aback slightly by a query which touched on how the Irish public might feel about Keane leaving the camp again in dramatic circumstances just 12 years after the small matter of the 2002 World Cup.
"I haven't thought about that either," he replied, after a pause, before adding a touch of levity under the umbrella of strengthening the case to make him stay.
"Could you come in and speak to him about that? Brilliant. That's a very good point. I just don't know, I really don't know.
"Obviously, I don't think he would take on any particular job lightly. That's not the way that Roy thinks."
O'Neill is one of the few to properly know what makes Keane tick. They got on well working together for ITV, which prompted Giovanni Trapattoni's replacement to bring in the country's old skipper with a view to putting him on the map again. After two and a half years out of management, Keane was itching to get back involved and was attracted by a quirky combination of two former Brian Clough disciples.
"I hate to use the word rehabilitation here in the country, but it's been really great for him, he's enjoyed the role," said O'Neill. "He loves it here, genuinely loves it. It's been great for him. He's said this to me over the course of time and probably emphasised it again.
"In terms of the age difference between the two of us, I think that kinda suits him as well. There's a goodly distance between us and I think working with these players and going to the football games, Roy never gets fed up with that. It's been really good for him."
Has the rehabilitation period been long enough to ready him for another solo mission? "Your points are valid," responded O'Neill. "I don't know."
They are the issues that Keane has to mull over in his head over the next 24 hours. There are many layers to the Celtic job, particularly the immediacy with which he would have to hit the ground running. As it stands, the SPL champions will play a Champions League qualifier on July 16 or 17, three days after the World Cup final which he is supposed to be working on for ITV.
Anthony Stokes will miss Ireland's US tour because travelling would deprive him of any off-season rest. Celtic's campaign revolves around making it to Europe's top table and securing the associated funds so they have to get moving fast and, for Keane, this opportunity would radically reshape his summer. This process has to unfold quickly whether he is Desmond's chosen candidate or not.
It has certainly added a different twist to Ireland's end-of-season soiree. For the players, normal business continued yesterday as they prepared for a training session at the Aviva in front of season ticket holders.
All cameras were focused on Keane who was originally pencilled in for media duties, before O'Neill understandably took the baton with not one single question posed about team affairs.
Later today, after training in Malahide and a pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow's Craven Cottage encounter with Italy, Keane is scheduled to fly with the team to London.
However, once that game is out of the way, the camp will temporarily split for a few days rest before training on Wednesday morning ahead of a flight to the USA later in the day. It leaves room for negotiation.
Will Keane be on the plane? Once again, he's keeping us guessing.
O'Neill on Celtic's swoop for his Ireland No 2...
DO YOU REGRET GIVING KEANE THE JOB GIVEN THE SPECULATION?
"I have no regrets, absolutely not – and he's not gone yet. We are at a speculative time at this moment. But absolutely not. I think that Roy coming into this job has rekindled interest in him, believe it or not. Whether these opportunities would have arisen so quickly had he not done so, I don't know. But no, no regrets whatsoever. We'll all be disappointed – players, back-room staff and myself. I was the one who brought him in. So we'll see."
IS IT A JOB HE CAN'T TURN DOWN?
"I don't know. It's a very big job obviously and those kind of offers might not come around often. But as we speak at this minute, I'm really unsure. I'm trying to give you an impression of being unsure."
WHAT ABOUT THE RISK OF GOING STRAIGHT INTO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFIERS? (IN JULY)
"I think really you do make a point. It was only brought home to me the other day when Anthony Stokes was mentioning that he would not be coming with us to America because he would have had no break because Celtic are back training very, very quickly. I'd forgotten they were back so early because they're involved in those big games. So it is a case of that being only a matter of days away rather than weeks or months so I'm sure that's something to consider."
DID YOU HAVE ANY INKLING LAST WEEK?
"I really didn't. Well, I was probably put off by you (press). I came into the press conference and you said they'd stopped taking bets on Henrik Larsson. So I thought, 'Well, Henrik must have got the job'. How foolish am I? That didn't seem to be the case. Peter (Sherrard – FAI communications director) spoke to me last night (Wednesday) to say there was a lot of bets rushing on Roy again."
WHAT IF KEANE ASKS YOU FOR ADVICE?
"I want him to stay because I think it would be great but then again, the idea that we have X number of games during the course of the season – I've told you before myself, the thing that I found, that I knew I would do, is that going into international management (you miss) the day-to-day running of affairs. I am enjoying this immensely but it's something that has taken me a little bit of time to get used to. With this period (summer games), it feels as if it's a full-time job when you're working on a daily basis and that's been terrific and I think Roy feels that himself."
COULD KEANE DO BOTH JOBS?
"If you're a full-time manager I don't know if it would work. If there was a way of keeping him here, I'd like to try and look at that as well. It (criticism) would be something you would always leave yourself open to if things weren't going so well at club level and you were off at every international break."
WHEN WILL KEANE SPEAK TO CELTIC AGAIN?
"I genuinely don't know. I spoke to him earlier this afternoon. I told him to focus on the game, hence you're getting me (for press) not him. At this moment, it's informal (talks). I've now spent 35 minutes discussing it. I'm not sure what the outcome can be."
WHEN DO YOU EXPECT AN ANSWER FROM HIM?
"He's thinking things over, he has a lot to think about including, I know, a number of other offers as well. So, can I emphasise for the final time, it's been great here, he's been great for the players and I would be disappointed if he left."
WHAT WOULD IMPACT BE ON PLAYERS IF HE LEFT?
"Roy has been great for me. I've genuinely enjoyed working with him, he's sometimes a totally different character to the one that you see in front of the TV. He's been excellent, the players have enjoyed him immensely. I can only say that naturally I'd be disappointed if he left because I really think that he's been terrific. We've only had four games with the squad but he's been excellent and I don't think that he'd give that up lightly."