Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill will ask his players to ignore an eventful few days in the career of assistant Roy Keane as they attempt to bring a winning end to their 2014 fixtures.
Ireland face the United States in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium tonight with O’Neill preparing to hand senior debuts to Derby full-back Cyrus Christie and Ipswich striker David McGoldrick.
However, just as it was ahead of Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier defeat in Scotland, much of the talk has centred on Keane and his wide-ranging comments over Everton’s handling of their Irish internationals, Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish and accusations that he himself is becoming a distraction.
However, while questions are being asked outside the camp, the 43-year-old continues to enjoy O’Neill’s full support.
The manager said: “Every single time that you mention Roy, it either seems to be a distraction or another issue. Let me tell you straight: I’m delighted to have him.
“I chose in the first place to bring him in here, he’s been terrific, he’s really been terrific. He has been terrific around the lads, he has been great. He has been everything that I wanted him to be.
“All the distractions – some things have materialised that actually aren’t of his doing to begin with, so I haven’t a problem.
“He’s got a mind of his own, he can say what he wants. Again, unless it’s absolutely and utterly in contradiction with what I am saying to you, then I do not have a problem with it. It is not an issue all the time.”
If Keane has dominated the last 24 hours or so, O’Neill is hoping Ireland’s football will create the headlines on Wednesday morning as he makes significant changes to the team which lost 1-0 in Glasgow.
Christie and McGoldrick will be the most significant beneficiaries, but whoever pulls on the green shirt, the manager will look to bring the calendar year to a positive conclusion before sitting down to draw up a masterplan for the crucial home qualifiers against Poland in March and the Scots in June.
O’Neill said: “The next two games are of utmost significance for us. It’s a long time to wait – that seems to be the case – and if you are looking at Scotland, that’s not until June-time, so that’s a lifetime away at the minute, which is a bit disappointing from that viewpoint.
“We would love to be playing Scotland next week again. We can’t undo those things – it’s done, it’s gone.
“I remember saying to you way back the start, that the team I started in the opening game with might not be the side that takes us to France, if we can get there to France. The likes of young Christie coming in and McGoldrick, you never know, might make a difference to us, might give us all a bit of a lift.”