As the lenses continued flashing, and the camera phones even started to come out, Roy Keane rolled his eyes. It was in mock frustration, but it’s hard not to think there was a significant element of sincerity to it.
The media “circus”, as he has called it before, has never been something the former Irish captain has been all too bothered about.
To say he is not “comfortable” with it would be incorrect since he is by now a master at handling the press.
This, after all, remains the man that notoriously got onto the front page of the Times of India on the day the country seemed to be edging close to nuclear war with Pakistan.
Yesterday wasn’t quite at those levels, and there wasn’t quite the same international presence as regards the press, but there were still plenty of indications as to how the usual norms simply can’t apply to Keane.
For a start, there was the fact that this very press conference was itself such a break from previous protocol.
Typically, the Wednesdays before Friday international matches are intended as a break for the full-time manager, where the assistant would give a literal “pitch-side briefing”.
That was obviously never going to be sufficient here. Instead, the demand was so great that the FAI media department had to hand out wristbands for separate sections of the press conference, not unlike a music festival: Keane-fest 2013 as it were.
With only two journalists per publication allowed into the daily newspaper press conference, and so many wanting to cover the event from different angles, it meant that many of the hard news journalists sent to cover the man responsible for so many front-page headlines had to make do with just the broadcast section for their sketch.
Before that even, a mini debate was sparked among members of the electronic media over who would get to ask the first question.
When one journalist was told he should have put in a request to do so, his fair response was “we’ve never had to do that before”.
That’s the Keane effect.
He brought journalists and interest from all the main UK national papers and broadcasters, Sky Sports and ESPN.
This is the enduring appeal of Ireland’s second-in-command. He remains one of the most singularly fascinating characters in football. John Brewin, senior correspondent of ESPN, explains his international appeal.
“He is still a major figure in world football. Beyond him being the dominant player of his era, his voice has always been unique. It was little coincidence that Sky used to send a reporter to Ipswich every week, and why ITV employ him. With Keane, you get a viewpoint that very few others provide, and very few English professionals in particular. If you think about it, his English equivalent is probably Joey Barton, which says it all.
“Keane is box-office, and remains so, even as an assistant manager. Martin O’Neill is a widely respected figure, but the interest in Ireland’s management structure lies purely with Keane.”
The structure of events like these doesn’t seem to particularly interest Keane. He came out with what might be described as the “tunnel glare” and seemed so much more serious when the lights were still on him.
When the cameras were turned off, and he began his briefing with the daily press, he offered genuine laughter. There had been hints of that mood previously, as some of his edgier answers were accompanied by a smile. Throughout the broadcast, he referenced some of the major “episodes of his career”, talking about how there were no potholes on the training ground and that O’Neill makes him look like “Mother Teresa”.
Yesterday, he still looked like one of the most engaging figures in football.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved