By Bill George
THE only smog in the eyes of Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy in Moscow yesterday was that generated by the absence of Roy Keane from his squad to face Russia in the European Championship tomorrow.
Reports of mist and fog covering Moscow in such a dense cloud that the match would have to be postponed were found to be greatly exaggerated when Ireland trained at Dynamo Moscow's beautiful stadium in the evening.
Ireland found, however, that the Keane controversy was not so easily blown away. McCarthy admitted that he believed the events of Saipan that led to the dismissal of Keane will be with him as long as he remains in football. And he said it was a sad situation that one of the world's great players was not playing for his country.
McCarthy was asked whether the absence of Keane meant more pressure on him and on the team to produce results and he said: "Of course it does. Unfortunately, the more people that give it legs, it is going to run and run and run.
"It is an unfortunate fact of life. I'm not going to deny for one minute the facts I have said it, it's on record: I said that when Roy played we were a better team. In the last campaign we were a better team.
"I wanted him and we all wanted him to play, but it is an unfortunate fact of life it's not going to happen. He was going to retire after the World Cup anyway.
"He has chosen not to; he has gone so far as to suggest he will play if I'm not here, but I can't do anything about that and if that adds a little bit more pressure to me, then so be it. "
It is still results-based, you know, whatever happens. So that's all I ever come back to and it doesn't matter what the personnel are, if Roy was playing and we get beat here or we don't qualify, the results are still the same.
"If because he's not playing and we don't get the right results in a certain game everyone wants to scream from the rooftops that he should be coming back, I can't do a thing about that.
"It's a very sad situation, really: one of the world's great players is not playing for his country, then that's not of my doing and I can't do anything about that."
All 22 players in the Irish squad took a full part in the training session after a four-hour flight from Dublin. They were met by first-class conditions on a balmy evening with the temperature in the 20s.
There were hints of a smoky atmosphere, apparently generated by the peat fires on the outskirts of Moscow but nothing to interfere with training.
Ireland's two teams the U21 squad under Don Givens are also preparing for a European Championship tie tomorrow will train again today but McCarthy said he was not likely to reveal his team selection.