It is probably the most celebrated tackle in Irish football history, the crunching challenge on Marc Overmars which dumped the Arsenal man on the turf, seemed to rattle the whole Dutch team and certainly set the tone for a battling performance which would eventually see a 10-man Ireland beat the Netherlands 1-0 in a crucial World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road in 2001, writes Liam Mackey.
However, 16 years on, Roy Keane is still wondering what all the fuss was about.
“Let’s get this straight,” he says. “Overmars wouldn’t have been the toughest player on the planet. He was very, very good and very tricky but I wouldn’t worry going into a tackle with Overmars. I’d like to think I’d be slightly the favourite. If a player takes a bad touch and shows me a little bit of the ball, that was all part of my job. There’s no point in praising me for that. If I couldn’t dominate Overmars in a tackle, I should have been sitting in the stand.
“People like their tricky wingers - I always admire people who enjoy the physical side of the game. That’s what I was brought up on and that’s what I tried to bring to the party.”
Of course, as one of the outstanding footballers of his generation, Roy Keane brought much more than that to the middle of the park. And nowadays he admits to tearing his hair out watching “lazy” midfielders who shirk responsibility and opt for safety first in their passing.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball, he said: “I would always say to midfielders, your first option as a midfielder should be ‘Can I pass it forward?’ and pass it in front of people, not behind people,” he says. “There’s a lot of lazy midfielders out there. I look at them when they get the ball and the full back is on and they kind of pass it to the side of them, or just behind them.
“Pass it in front of them: you can dictate the play by passing the ball ahead and forcing them to get onto it. That puts them on the front foot. Most top midfielders should be taking one, two, three touches, maximum. When I see lads taking four or five and slowing the whole game down, it drives me crazy.”
Keane is now bringing his vast experience to bear as Ireland manager Martin O’Neill’s assistant, a role which he clearly continues to relish as the build-up accelerates towards tomorrow week’s World Cup clash with Wales at the Aviva.
“I’d never say I lost my love for the game but you can get frustrated with what’s going on around the outside of the game with chief executives, agents etc,” he says in the Newstalk interview.
“The beauty with the Irish job is that I can hone in on the matches and the players on the pitch and not get bogged down by off the field stuff. It doesn’t mean to say I’m shutting any doors on myself going back into club football. But I’m enjoying working with Martin and working with really good players at a good level. I’m fortunate that it ticks a lot of the boxes for where I am at the moment.
“I still like the idea of being a manager and calling the shots but the beauty of international football is that I’m getting a taste of being on the training pitch and then having a big input with Martin in terms of selection and the final XI. I’m getting the best of both worlds.”
There are distinct ups and downs to the scouting aspect of the job, however.
“I went to Wigan and Bristol on Saturday and (Callum) O’Dowda was on the bench so you travel and think: ‘My god the one player I’ve come to watch is on the bench’ but that’s the risk you always take. But this idea of travelling to the matches and meeting people for a cup of tea at half time - let me tell you, that doesn’t rock my boat.
“Sometimes when you go to these grounds you can’t even get a decent cup of tea and (you have) to make a lot of small talk with people you don’t want to have small talk with. It’s a battle to get into the car park. You bump into lots of idiots on your travels so don’t be kidded that it’s all glamorous.
“The idea of networking and having a cup of tea and small talk at half-time and sitting in car parks and motorways for hours, that doesn’t give me a buzz in the mornings when I wake up. But watching matches and watching good players - that’s great.”
Ireland go into the game against Wales unbeaten and top of their qualifying group but, says Keane, there’s only so much the team are entitled to take from the results so far –including that valuable three points away to Austria.
“Confidence is a massive thing but (that game) seems a long time ago. We hope players can keep the momentum up but we can’t turn up next Sunday and Monday and say, ‘lads, you got a great result (in November) so we’ll just take it easy this week and it will fall into place’.
“It doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid. We’ll have to turn up, focus on the game, give all the info to the players, and hopefully the players can get through the next week with no more injuries. We’ve already picked up enough of them. “
On which point, Keane is at pains to clarify that a remark he made at a recent Cobh Ramblers fundraiser in Cork – to the effect he largely ignored email updates on players from the Irish team’s medical staff – was intended as a joke.
“Recently I’ve done a few Q and A’s and I do try and do the right thing when there’s a good crowd there, 700 or whatever, and you try and have a little bit of craic with the crowd and you try and lighten the mood. And obviously I poke fun at myself and the staff - and a lot of it is tongue in cheek - but sometimes people can take one line out of it and make out I’ve been critical.
“I think the medical staff got it and the doctor (because) I’ve the utmost respect for all of the people I work with. And it just saddens me sometimes because I feel like I don’t want to be doing any more Q and As. Because you try and have a bit of craic and people maybe pick it up the wrong way. That’s certainly not the case but, listen, these things happen and it’s all part of being in the public eye.
“But anyone who knows me would know I’ve the utmost respect and enjoy working with the staff. And if you can’t have a bit of craic, there’s something wrong.”
Returning to Friday week’s big game, Keane observes: “The Welsh boys will be pretty confident of getting a result so we’ll have to match their determination and effort and show that bit of quality that we know we have.
“The beauty of the job now is that I know come the Friday night, having worked with the players, that whichever starting XI we have will give everything for the cause.
“And that’s a great feeling because I’ve worked previously as a manager and you’d have certain players, certain characters (and you’d wonder) will they give everything they have?
“But you know in the Irish group that when that whistle goes against Wales - there’s no guarantee about anything because players are humans and make mistakes and so can officials - but the players will leave everything on the pitch and that gives you half a chance.”
As ever, with Keane, there can be no resting on past glories, whether in Vienna, at the Euros or anywhere else. “Enjoy the victories but don’t go overboard on them because I see other players now enjoying victories for far too long, and I’m talking about weeks, months and years later. You’ve got to move on quickly.”
As a pundit on ITV, Keane made no secret of the enjoyment he derived from watching Barcelona’s astonishing Champions League comeback victory over PSG. But, with Gareth Bale and company in mind, he’d be perfectly happy to take a rather more prosaic result in Ireland’s favour on March 24.
“That was a freak game,” he says of the drama in the Nou Camp. “You could analyse it and say defensively it was poor and PSG gave some bad goals away but, in terms of attacking play it was fantastic.
“Looking forward to the Wales game, I’m not sure we’d want that much entertainment. We’d like to be on the front foot and cause them problems but we don’t want to see as much goalmouth action as that - particularly in our own goal.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner