We should really be thankful Martin O’Neill is a smart, media-savvy man who seems happy to let other people bask in the attention.
Since reports first circulated last weekend of his appointment as Ireland’s football kingpin, you could be forgiven for thinking the ex-Celtic boss’s assistant, Roy Keane, and not the Derry native, is the man in the hot seat.
Love him or loathe him, Leeside’s finest is still box-office gold when it comes to Irish football, with his heroic exploits on the field and unnerving presence off it still captivating both fans and foes.
As outspoken pundit Eamon Dunphy — another who has crossed many divides — remarked when asked “whether the appointment is just about show business” — “this is showbiz, baby”.
And while football purists such as Liam Brady may be put off by this take on the game, in the PR, recruitment, and sports psychology fields, the potentially explosive return of Keane — and the attention it is gaining — is well worth the gamble.
The Corkman beat the Dutch almost single-handedly at Lansdowne Road to drag Ireland into World Cup 2002, before inspiring a relegation-haunted Sunderland into the Premier League in his first management job.
But he was also at the centre of high-profile bust-ups with Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Kenny Dalglish, Alex Ferguson, John Delaney and — who knows — maybe even his loyal (and clearly over-walked) dogs — as a nation looked on in horror, and just a little voyeurism. It begs the question: what will the return of Roy of the Rages really mean for Irish football?
For Geraldine O’Neill, deputy managing director at Edelman PR, while her namesake’s appointment has driven “significant interest and excitement”, the arrival of Keane adds a real “box office quality” the FAI must get behind.
“It’s not the exclusive factor, but both appointments have certainly got the nation talking again, and that’s a very positive thing,” she said.
“Ultimately, success lies in team performance and this is what dictates ticket numbers and interest over time.
“But Keane’s arrival will undoubtedly give the organisation a much-needed boost in terms of ticket sales, for the first while anyway, and we can look forward to hearing a bit more of the Lansdowne roar in the coming months.”
The PR expert said the Corkman’s high-profile could help O’Neill more than hinder him, as it may “act as a useful diversion” in certain situations and “take the spotlight off [the manager], allowing him to get on with the task at hand”.
She added that having such a “charismatic” figure as Keane on board could also inspire the side and “turn average players into something special, assuming there is some level of skill”.
nDr Olivia Hurley, a registered psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland, is confident the Corkman’s return will be a springboard for both his and the team’s future success.
However, the lecturer at the Institute of Art and Design Technology in Dún Laoghaire, who has worked as a consultant sports psychologist for a number of provincial rugby sides, said the possible achievements all depend on how a key, mental approach to team manage-ment is implemented.
“There’s a theory we follow in sports psychology called Tuckman’s linear model of group development, which basically talks about the way a team come together with a new management structure,” she said.
“It’s not flawless and it does have its limitations because it is based on logical steps, but there are four stages to it: Forming, storming, ‘norming’, and performing.”
Dr Hurley said the process effectively involves stages where players and management will “suss each other out and test the boundaries”, which could lead to conflict.
Depending on how this is handled, a team will slowly develop cohesion and a sense of “task and social” togetherness, which can bring a strong belief system and an “ownership of the team by the players which the best managers allow”.
She said Keane’s persona means it is likely he will be focussed on the “task cohesion” whereas O’Neill will act as a softer, more approachable figure.
However, she stressed players should not be intimidated by the ex-Man United captain as his “personality is a little misunderstood”. “Roy will come in as a ‘known entity’. He’s known as a very high performer but it’s a little misunderstood because high performers don’t demand perfection — they demand excellence in effort and commitment.
“Keane wasn’t a perfect player himself, but he was always driving for excellence and will set very clear targets and like [ex-Leinster coach and current Irish rugby boss] Joe Schmidt will be very good at implementing them.”
Dr Hurley said the Corkman’s perceived failure to meet such standards to date in his management career could serve to drive him on to succeed in his new role alongside O’Neill rather than damage his confidence.
Regarding FAI chief executive John Delaney’s decision to accept Keane’s return to an organisation he is on record as loathing, nRobert Mac Giolla Phádraig, a Sigmar Recruitment director, said there were clear reasons why the decision was a wise one.
“Typically when we’re recruiting we assess three broad principles: Competency, experience, and achievement. Both of these guys [O’Neill and Keane] tick the boxes,” he said.
“In terms of Keane, you also have to assess the motivational part and whether the candidates career trajectory is in line with what an organisation wants.
“You also have to look at the cultural fit, namely is there a common belief and value system between the candidate and the company. So in this case, is the FAI’s view of where they want to go aligned with Roy Keane’s?”
He said this side to the Corkman’s temperament needs to be harnessed properly as Keane could either be an “ambassador” for high-achievement or will become uncomfortable with his surroundings. However, this is specifically where the O’Neill-Keane “marriage” makes sense, as the Derryman will be able to re-route the wider leadership qualities of an “insular, self-motivated person” into someone who tailors his views to benefit individual players.
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