Having only joined up with the squad this week when they flew into the US on Wednesday, the LA Galaxy player was only hearing “bits and bobs” from afar. He expressed his relief in the team hotel yesterday that his former international team-mate had opted to stick around, and agreed that it represented a vote of confidence in this groups of players.
“I heard the manager saying today that it’s done now, he’s here, we’ll move on,” said Keane who trained for the first time with his international team mates earlier yesterday morning.
“As a group, we’re delighted that he’s staying... He’s been good since he’s come in. We’ve enjoyed him being in the group. As I say, he’s decided to stay and certainly everybody is happy with that.”
The Ireland squad left their New Jersey base of the Hyatt Regency hotel across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan just after lunchtime yesterday, bound for Philadelphia almost two hours south. At the home of the Major League Soccer outfit Philadelphia Union, they will take on England’s World Cup Group D rivals Costa Rica at PPL Park (kick-off 1am Irish time) with something called The Freedom Cup and stake, and more importantly, an improvement in the country’s Fifa rankings.
It emerged yesterday Ireland had fallen four spots to 70th in the world, from a previous high of sixth (twice).
With Albania, Bolivia, El Salvador and Poland all leapfrogging them in the last month, it represents the lowest the Boys in Green have found themselves in the Fifa rankings since the system was launched back in 1993.
“Funny how stats quickly mount up,” Irish manager Martin O’Neill said. “We’re playing some friendly games, and we’ve chosen the opposition, so this conversation was going to come up at some stage. My view is that we should have won the past three games, the Serbia game we missed some great chances, likewise against Turkey and the Italy game... we definitely should have won.”
O’Neill bristled at the thought that this was a worrying indictment of Ireland’s form in the past four years, the length of time used to calculate the rankings, and that a win tonight would be important for seeding.
“Without being pernickety, if that’s the case, over the next couple of years, I’ll pick the easiest opposition at home to play if that helps. That’s not how I see it.
“You said the (ranking) took place over (four) years — I’ve been in the job seven months and we’ve chosen pretty difficult games here. Not that it matters to me but if we’d gone the other way, if you give me three or four teams we could have beaten, I’m not sure that would be the bestpreparation for the EuropeanChampionships. Do I think this is the best preparation? I do, yes.”
While O’Neill said he wasn’t in a position to name a team, he did confirm there would be at least four changes from the side that drew with Italy, with Keane expected to start up front.
Keane, for his part, reiterated the good shape he is in since having both achilles operated on over the winter, a drastic course of action which he fully believes will extend his career. However, he did reflect on a controversial domestic league encounter at the weekend which led to his post-game outburst after Chicago hosted LA on Sunday afternoon in brutally warm conditions.
“One of our players felt dizzy during the match and nearly fainted because of the heat and had to be taken off. One of these days something seriously bad is going to happen,” said Keane.
“Hopefully we can do something before it happens. It simply does not make sense to have a game at 3pm when it could be played at 8pm.”
Meanwhile, though O’Neill expressly asked for the media to refrain from questions about Roy Keane, one journalist returned to the “elephant in the room“, asking specifically about the contracts they had signed with the FAI and whether or not it included as one of the terms a condition that they can’t work for anyone else.
“I wouldn’t know about Roy’s contract, I only know about my own. I’m not interested in working for anybody else,” was the curt response.
Possible team: Ford; Kelly, Keogh, Pearce, Wilson; Pilkington, Whelan, Quinn, McLean; Keane, Doyle.