Which is not to say it isn’t a smart decision; just that in our line of work you can never have too much of a good thing. Martin O’Neill as manager would always have hogged headlines but Martin O’Neill standing alongside – let’s not mince words here – One Of The Most Famous Irishmen Of All Time, would really have had our laptops dancing.
For a variety of reasons it does, however, make sense for O’Neill to step solo into the spotlight this afternoon. Lest anyone have any doubts, it sends out a clear signal he is, after all, the Number One, The Head Honcho, The Gaffer, the Boss, the Commander-in-Chief. And, that being the case, it follows there is no more reason why his second in command should be at his shoulder today than there would have been for Marco Tardelli to share top billing when Giovanni Trapattoni was unveiled all those centuries ago.
The word Keane will be otherwise engaged checking out Irish players in England also strikes the right chord suggesting that, contrary to the practice of the previous regime, the new era will be on the case in stadia around England and elsewhere from first moment to last.
So, yes, there are eminently practical reasons as well as reasons of protocol why O’Neill will stand alone today. For all that, you’d need to be one of life’s innocents not to suspect that Keane’s capacity to upstage the event – just by his mere presence – didn’t also weigh heavily on certain minds when the ceremonials were being organised. As it is, O’Neill will know to expect at least as many questions about his sidekick as about himself when he faces the cameras and microphones at 1pm. And it has been ever thus. I can even recall a number of occasions when Keano inadvertently wrecked your humble correspondent’s best-laid plans.
There was November 18, 2005 for example, the date on which – as the Turner’s Cross faithful will need no reminding – Cork City won the league by beating Derry City on the last night of the season. What with this paper readying a special supplement in advance, I was already knee deep in the work long before the night’s actual kick-off when our own Commander-In-Chief rang through with a slight tremor in his voice and an opening remark designed to send chills through even the most hardened of hacks: “Have you heard the news about Roy?”
That’s how I learned Roy Keane was leaving Manchester United. And, by the end of that long, long day of two huge sports stories, I wasn’t far short of following suit by taking leave of my own senses.
Flash forward a year later and, in the middle of full-on coverage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, I find I have a rare moment of down-time in Berlin before I have to catch the next train to the next city for the next match. So there I am, sitting in the sun by the Brandenburg Gate, enjoying a nice cup of coffee and something in the line of a bun, when the mobile trills. It’s the Commander-In-Chief asking if I’ve heard the news about...
This time, it turns out, Yer Man has only gone and announced his retirement as a player. The bun and coffee are pushed to one side, the laptop is lifted onto the table and, well, off we go again, me and Keano. And, just to bring things full circle, as recently as a couple of weeks ago I was in Turner’s Cross again, this time for Cork’s game against St Pats, when the word spread that Keano was in the house. Naturally, a few of us in the press box stood up to survey the serried ranks of heads in the stand below us in an effort to positively ID our quarry – at which point, precisely, there was a big roar from the crowd which told us that, while we were basically studying people’s hair, City had scored. Morto.
Fortunately, there were five more goals that night to soften our embarrassment but for any readers left puzzled as to why they were all described in, I would like to think, luscious detail in my match report — while the other merely merited a sentence along the lines of, ‘And then Cork scored’ — well, now you know.
And, of course, please feel free to blame Himself.
Incidentally, while revisiting that memorable 2005 league win for this column, I came upon an interesting quote about Keane’s departure from Old Trafford as reported in this paper the following day.
Here is what Martin O’Neill had to say at the time: “I’m very surprised he’s gone as quickly as that, although it’s safe to say he had ongoing problems at the club. But when somebody who has given as much service as Roy gets the door like that, it’s a terrible end. But I don’t believe that he’s fallen out with Alex Ferguson, there was too much respect between.”
Just for the record, however, I feel obliged to point out that the Martin O’Neill in question was identified in the report as “the chairman of the Cork area branch of the Manchester United Supporters Club”.
But today it will be the one and only. And rightly so.