Keane pictured at Ireland training this morning.
Martin O’Neill has leapt to the defence of assistant Roy Keane after he found himself at the centre of another storm.
The outspoken 43-year-old, who hit the headlines last week after an alleged incident at the Republic of Ireland’s team hotel, took a scatter-gun approach when he spoke to the media on Sunday.
Keane criticised Everton for their handling of injuries to Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, urged teenage Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish to make up his mind over which country he wants to represent and rounded on reporters for suggesting he has become a distraction.
The comments prompted a swift and withering response from Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, who accused him of saying “some stupid things sometimes”.
However, manager O’Neill, who asked the younger man to join him in the Ireland set-up following his appointment in November last year, insists he has no regrets about doing so despite the attention Keane attracts with his pursuit by Celtic, his updated autobiography and the events of the last few days having dominated the agenda in recent months.
The former Northern Ireland international 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.
O'Neill at this morning's training session.
“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.”
O’Neill’s defence was backed wholeheartedly by defender John O’Shea, a former Manchester United team-mate of Keane’s.
O’Shea said: “As the manager says, it’s brilliant having him on board and I’d definitely echo those sentiments, without a doubt. ”
Asked what he brings to the Republic, O’Shea added: “Well obviously, along with the rest of Martin’s coaching team, Roy’s experience playing at such a high level, just his passion for the job – all those factors combined are very helpful.”
Keane insisted on Sunday that the publicity surrounding him had not been a distraction in the build-up to the Euro 2016 qualifier in Glasgow, which Ireland lost 1-0, and O’Shea agreed.
He said: “Look it doesn’t bother us one bit, honestly. We don’t see it either way. It’s more yourselves that really enjoy those facts. We just have our jobs to do on the pitch.
“Ultimately we train great, everything is prepared for us great and it’s up to us to do the job on the pitch.”
O’Neill will hope the focus will now return to exactly that, with a much-changed side due to face the United States at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening in a friendly which will bring an end to the Republic’s 2014 fixtures.
Derby full-back Cyrus Christie and Ipswich striker David McGoldrick will both be handed first senior caps, but there will be no place for 19-year-old Grealish as he continues to keep his options open with England also on his trail.
Keane’s frustration with that situation may be clear, but O’Neill has been adamant from the start that he would not involve himself in a lengthy courtship.
He said: “I’ve spoken to Jack Grealish’s father, I spoke to him at the time a way back some time ago. I spoke to the two of them and Jack’s father and Jack were not in any great hurry at that particular time to make their minds up - fine, absolutely. I left it entirely up to them.
“Now at the end of it all, if Jack pulls out of the Under-21s and wants to concentrate on his club football, good luck to him, good luck to him.
“I can understand, Roy is not going to be running around there asking Jack Grealish’s father every single day ’has he made his mind up?’. Let them decide themselves.
“If you are asking about young Grealish, it would be nice to have someone like that on board. I have said to you – and I don’t need Roy Keane for this, I don’t need Roy Keane to tell me – but I’m not going to go and chase him, I am not chasing him.”
— Audio from Shaun Cronin