Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney has insisted Roy Keane’s turbulent past is irrelevant to his impending return to the international stage.
In confirming Martin O’Neill’s imminent appointment as Republic of Ireland manager and with it Keane’s installation as his number two more than a decade after he made an infamous exit from the 2002 World Cup finals in the Far East, Delaney was adamant those events in Saipan have nothing to do with the future of Irish football.
Speaking on Newstalk Radio, Delaney described talks with the former Manchester United skipper last week as “absolutely brilliant” and added: “There should be a line drawn in the sand in terms of Saipan and what happened. We were all younger people back then.
“I think we all say things in different parts of our life. I’m sure you or I have said things that we regret.
“But anything that would have been said by Roy or I to each other or about each other is irrelevant, it’s irrelevant.
“Irish football and our country is bigger than anything.”
Keane famously questioned the Republic’s preparations for the tournament in a bust-up which led to a stand-off between him and then manager Mick McCarthy, and, despite a major diplomatic exercise, their differences could not be bridged and Ireland’s captain played no part in the tournament.
However, his rehabilitation appears to be complete following his decision to accept O’Neill’s overtures to assist him after the Northern Irishman was approached over the vacancy left by Giovanni Trapattoni in September.
Delaney admitted O’Neill had received assurances over the appointment of Keane as his No2. “He [O’Neill] asked what the association’s view would be about Roy being considered, and I said absolutely no problem,” said Delaney.
The former Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager has taken his time to make up his mind over the opening with the FAI having identified him as its primary target within days of the Italian’s exit.
Delaney confirmed that talks are at an advanced stage and that he hopes to be able to unveil the new management team on Saturday with 61-year-old O’Neill having turned down a series of chances to work in the Barclays Premier League once again to resume his career at international level.
He said: “I don’t see any impediment to that happening. I hope that this Saturday, this coming Saturday, there will be an unveiling of our new management.
“Martin thought about it for a period of time. He has turned down jobs in the Premiership to take this job.
“I hope this time around with this appointment, once it’s confirmed officially next Saturday, that people will get behind this appointment, because it’s our country.
“We want our country to achieve, we want our country to qualify for major tournaments, we want to let bygones be bygones, we want to work together.”
Former Northern Ireland international O’Neill could find himself thrust into the ongoing controversy over players from the North opting to play for the Republic rather than the country of their birth, as they are entitled to do, with Darron Gibson and James McClean among those who have chosen to do so.
However, Delaney said: “I think the players make up their own minds. James McClean, Darron Gibson play for the Republic because of their different backgrounds, and they want to play for the Republic as opposed to Northern Ireland.”
Should O’Neill and Keane be confirmed in their posts at the weekend, they will be in position to prepare the players for friendlies against Latvia and Dublin and Poland in Poznan later this month.
The squad is due to meet up in time for training in Malahide on Monday morning ahead of the first game against the Latvians at the Aviva Stadium next Friday evening.
But their main focus will be on preparing the players for the resumption of competitive action in September next year, when the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign is due to get under way.
Ireland, of course, qualified for the Euro 2012 finals under Trapattoni via the play-offs having narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa via a similar route.
However, they finished a distant fourth behind Germany, Sweden and Austria in their Group C campaign for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil, and that ultimately cost the 74-year-old Italian his job as successive defeats by the Swedes and the Austrians left them facing an impossible task.
Under-21s boss Noel King took charge of the side for the last two qualifiers, away to Germany and at home to Kazakhstan, and at least ended his brief tenure on a winning note.