LARRY RYAN: What is Roy Keane fighting for these days?

If you remember, it was Muhammad Ali started it, not Mick McCarthy or Ian Evans or even Tom Humphries’ interview.

On the plane out to Saipan, Roy Keane watched Ali, the movie starring Will Smith. He was struck by the scene when Ali’s family surrounded him, imploring him to take the draft, that he wouldn’t have to fight.

“Ali resists them all. I’m doing what I think is right. It matters. You don’t compromise on your principles. Watching this is very moving. Something in this scene strikes a chord with me. Don’t put up with shit. I’m not fighting a white man’s fight. It’s an inspiring notion, a demonstration of conviction that I understand very clearly, and relate to in my own life. Don’t compromise on the things you believe in.”

At that time, Roy Keane believed in the timely availability of balls and bibs and isotonic drinks, and the flatness of training pitches. The shit he wasn’t going to put up with included barbecues with the media, ‘Harry’s fucking Challenge’, cheese sandwiches and takeaway pizza that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink wouldn’t have to eat, celebrating away draws, floating with the dead fishes, failing to prepare, and going along for the ride.

He was a Roy with a philosophy, more than a decade before you couldn’t get anywhere in life without one.

Had that Roy smashed his tennis racket at Flushing Meadows and roared abuse at an umpire, promising he’d never step on Roy’s manor again, at least half the world would have backed Roy, like it did Serena Williams this week.

Serena has also called Ali her inspiration and has more obvious reasons for doing so. Her colour and gender and the obstacles she has beaten will always give her a cause. So when she explained she had been fighting for women’s rights during her exchange with Carlos Ramos, half the world was with her, even if it hadn’t realised, until that very moment, that the fundamental right to abuse officials when on the brink of defeat is one of the central tenets of feminism.

Because Serena has a cause, there is something in every scene from her life that strikes a chord. But what is Roy fighting for now? What is his cause? What are the convictions he understands clearly? And how much shit is he tolerating?

Once, if Roy Keane roared expletives along a corridor after Harry Arter, we’d have understood that he was fighting a war for the greater good. And we’d have understood Harry was just collateral damage in that war.

But now we are more or less all on the same page as that great storyteller Stephen Ward — a Peter Ustinov for the digital age — when he describes it as “basically, just Roy losing the head”.

There is nobody shocked when Roy Keane loses the head, but we can hardly remember the Roy Keane who lost the head when Ireland lost the ball.

We may never have expected world class human resource management practices from Roy Keane. But we might have better understood him calling Harry Arter every name under the sun if it was for turning his back when one of his full-backs had the ball.

But we’re not sure what Roy stands for now. We don’t know how is it a man who missed a World Cup because of the preparations helps manage a team that often looks underprepared. We’re not sure what Roy Keane is doing with the balls and bibs and isotonic drinks and flat pitches at his disposal.

Through the highs and lows of his spell as Ireland’s assistant manager, Roy Keane has watched a team play the type of game Martin O’Neill likes to manage, rather than the one Keane liked to play. But he has been seemingly content to fight another man’s fight.

The suggestion was made this week, by John Giles and Liam Brady and others, that as an assistant manager Roy Keane should be doing more to assist the manager. But Keane has been of great assistance to Martin O’Neill during the rough patches of their Ireland reign.

He has provided star quality, press conference entertainment, and the odd timely distraction from events on the pitch.

And when questions might otherwise be asked about his own philosophy, Martin O’Neill has frequently been able to emerge as the calm voice of reason working gamely through the distractions, giving his backing to Roy, just as he did again this week, in the wake of one of the worst Ireland performances in a long time.

In reality, it is Keane who has backed O’Neill to the hilt.

There have been no training ground leaks telling of Roy tackling his boss about the style of play, or persuading him to tell the players the team, or make them come out and play in places like Copenhagen.

Has Keane buried his principles in loyalty to the gaffer? Does he have principles?

Why did Roy lose the head this summer? Is he finally set to go rogue?

There is another key line in Wardy’s detailed account of life in the Ireland camp, attributed to Harry Arter and delivered to Keane.

“You’re not the manager, you can’t talk to me.” That would sting a man who used to stand for something.

After all he warned us from the outset this arrangement would have a limited shelf life.

“I like to get a feel for the group of players and make quick decisions myself; I like the responsibility — ‘You’re off tomorrow, lads; you’ve trained really hard.’

“When you’re the assistant you can’t make those calls, and I think, ultimately, that it might eventually frustrate me.”

A Roy Keane who can’t give players a day off was bound to be vexed when he saw them taking it off anyway.

Interestingly, Keane was a very visible figure before Tuesday’s game in Wroclaw on a rare night when Ireland set out to keep the ball.

But to welcome the old Roy back, you’d like to have heard via WhatsApp how the gaffer got the Ramos treatment and his tactics board went the way of Serena’s racket.

Rugby under friendly fire

The great existential crisis enveloping the world is worse than we ever imagined.

That much was clear on Thursday when a rugby man said unthinkable, unprecedented things, for a rugby man.

Agustin Pichot, the vice-chairman of World Rugby, warned us the international game might be only 12 months from disintegrating. But that wasn’t the unthinkable part. Indeed, that tallied roughly with many estimates when you take into account the battering these lads are taking.

No, it turns out Pichot wasn’t concerned about that side of things at all — the attrition rate, as they call it. Rather he is worried about the calendar.

World Rugby wants to replace the November series with some kind of home-and-away tournament. A Nations League style set-up maybe.

And that is when the grandest betrayal yet of ‘rugby values’ took place. Yes, Pichot used the dreaded word: “We don’t want friendlies. We want games with an edge.”

At once everything we thought we knew fell apart, the idea that every single Test match is the definitive measure of national character and bravery shattered. Where can we go from here?

Heroes & villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN 

The BBC: Have fixed the internet, finding a way to broadcast live sport online so the feed isn’t 30 or 40 seconds behind the TV. Bad news is, the solution won’t be ready until the 2022 World Cup.

Naomi Osaka: Don’t feel too sorry for her. Beating Serena in a blaze of controvassy is better for the profile than, say, edging Anastasija Sevastova. Still, she handled it with grace.

HELL IN A HANDCART 

Minor judges: Experts say the ommission of Kerry’s Paul O’Shea from the minor team of the year is an outrage. But more people paid attention to the selection than usual.

Jose Mourinho: If the Trumper gets that second term and burns through White House staff at his current rate, surely a man this suspicious of the media will get his chance.

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