The two men took their joint public bow pitchside in San Sebastian last night, as part of ITV’s team covering the Real Sociedad-Manchester United Champions League game in Spain.
And there was a hint of the chuckle brothers about their maiden appearance with O’Neill, when asked why he’d chosen Keane as his second in command, setting the tone by responding: “I’ve asked myself that many a time in the last 48 hours but he’s coming with me.”
Keane too offered some dry humour as he remarked: “I’m very excited. I mightn’t look it but I am.”
But he also described the development as “fantastic news”, saying he was “delighted and honoured that Martin’s asked me to go and help with the team. And I look forward to working with the players and trying to get to the Euros.”
Donning his own serious hat, O’Neill said of his new assistant: “I think he’ll be great for me but more importantly he’ll be great for the Republic of Ireland. I think we’re excited by it and looking forward to it greatly.”
However, the best line was delivered by the Derry man. “I think I’m the bad cop and he’s the bad, bad cop,” said O’Neill, as Keane cracked a grin.
For his part, the latter added: “I'm very lucky to get another opportunity — I think I've deserved another chance to get back into football. It's great to work with Martin and hopefully we won't let anybody down.”
The official unveiling will take place in Dublin on Saturday but it will be solely the O’Neill show, the manager being given his own outing in the media spotlight — while Keane is expected to attend a game in England — before the duo begin work with the players on Monday. While O’Neill has still to confirm all his backroom team, he will take full charge of training in Malahide next week.
The initial extended panel for the upcoming friendlies at home to Latvia and away to Poland has since been whittled down by interim manager Noel King, with the 27 players who have made the cut being named today.
Earlier yesterday, FAI chief executive John Delaney had insisted the previous well-documented problems between himself and Roy Keane were no longer an issue after he said the pair agreed to put aside their differences when he met with the Cork man on two occasions once O’Neill had made it clear he wanted him as his assistant.
“We met last week and there were no problems whatsoever,” he said. “The past was discussed for about 30 seconds. It was all about the future. About how two great icons of Irish soccer in Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and people like myself and the Association can work together for the better of Irish football and this country. To be honest, I don’t think we ever sat down and spoke before last week in the way that we did. It was absolutely brilliant from my point of view and I think from his point of view as well.”
Speaking on Newstalk to Pat Kenny, Delaney said: “Anything (in the past) that would have been said by Roy or I to each other or about each other is now irrelevant. Because Irish football and our country is bigger than anything.”
Asked if Keane might be obliged to ‘button his lip’ in his new role, Delaney replied: “That is for Martin to manage. Martin is the manager and Roy is his assistant. The manager works with his backroom staff, be it his goalkeeping coach or assistant, and I think Martin will manage that relationship. Certainly, the Roy Keane that I met last week impressed me. It’s the first time that I would have sat down with him over detailed discussions and he impressed me, and subsequent phone calls and text messages impressed me, and please God with this appointment we will make Irish football great again.”
Last night, Delaney spelled out in more detail the job spec for the new management team — beyond the obvious goal of qualifying for Euro 2016 — and expressed his belief that their approach will be substantially different to that adopted under Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli.
“Having spoken to them, they’re both excited to take it just apart from the traditional thing of managing the Irish team,” he said. “Obviously they’ll be going to matches in England, they’ll get involved in coach education programmes here, particularly with (High Performance Director) Ruud Dokter, (they’ll be) attending League of Ireland matches — something Roy has done of recent, for sure, and something he and Martin wish to do in the future.
“And of course assisting our current underage managers in terms of working with the players. Because it would be a big thing for a 17, 18 or 19-year- old player to come in contact with legends like O’Neill and Roy Keane. They’re the different facets that have been spoken about and that both Martin and Roy are anxious to do. So I think the approach to the job will be very much different to the previous.”
Meanwhile, Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who played under O’Neill and with Keane, has hailed the pairing as “tremendous”. “In Martin O’Neill you have one of the best British managers in the last 25 to 30 years,” he said, “and, in Roy, one of the best players of his generation in that time.”