“I think it’s in my contract...” comes the deadpan reply.
The assistant manager, it turns out, is in chirpy, upbeat mood, in contrast to the prevailing air of worry and uncertainty, prompted by injuries and suspension, about Ireland’s preparedness for their European Championship play-off against Bosnia.
In his own head, Keane already envisages the team having to take the field in Zenica on Friday without Shane Long, while it also sounds like he thinks John O’Shea — suspended along with Jon Walters for the first leg — won’t make the return game in Dublin next Monday either. Neither player has been officially ruled out yet but, clearly, Keane thinks it makes more sense to plan with their absence in mind.
“We already knew about Jon’s suspension,” Keane says. “I think it would be different if this had come up in the last one or two days and had thrown our plans but part of me had ruled Shane out anyway. The extra two days might help us, no doubt, but I’ve kind of been preparing in my own mind that these lads won’t be available. Even Sheasy (John O’Shea), the way he pulled up, you just knew it was a sore one. Whatever people say about a quick recovery and this and that, it’s a three, four, five weeks I think.”
For Keane, the point is that there has already been too much attention paid to the missing men. Accentuating the positive, he insists the focus should be on the available players and their ability to see Ireland through to the finals in France.
“I think we’ve had setbacks earlier in the group, we’ve had disappointments, we’ve been written off one or two times,” he notes.
“I remember the game in Germany, (David) Meyler played at right back. Lads have come in and done a job for us. We’ve got to be careful we don’t get distracted talking about a lot of the players that aren’t here. I think the Irish media are quite good at that. Focus on the players that are here. I believe the 11 players who will start on Friday night, whatever about the boys who are missing, will give 100% and give everything for the cause. That’s all you can ask.”
So Keane duly talks up players who are definitely in the running to replace O’Shea and Long, like Ciaran Clark and Daryl Murphy.
“Clarky will probably look at the next week and say, ‘Yeah, if I get an opportunity...’ It’s a big week for him. I like Clarky, and he’s come in on the back of a good result (Aston Villa’s scoreless draw with Man City), a clean sheet, a decent performance. Obviously I don’t gauge a player’s career on one weekend but it’s better to come into the hotel in an upbeat mood than lads who’ve been beaten four or five nil.
“For Daryl, a hat-trick (for Ipswich against Rotherham) — I don’t care who you are — will do you the world of good. Even as a young kid or playing amateur, if you score a hat-trick you’re going to be upbeat, and if Murph gets the nod on Friday, he won’t let us down.
“I know there’s all that, ‘can he get that extra bit at international level?’ I think he can. I think he can score goals at international level. He needs a break, like everybody else. I’ve played with really good strikers at international level and it takes a while sometimes to get one or two goals under your belt. He was never going to get as many goals as he did last year (in the Championship), I think we’re all aware of that, and that’s not underestimating Murph because he was so brilliant last year. But that hat-trick will do him and Ipswich the world of good.”
There are also words of praise for James McCarthy, Richard Keogh, and the aforementioned Meyler.
“Listen, I like Meyler, obviously I signed him, he was one of my better signings — but that wouldn’t have been hard,” Keane quips. “Obviously he’s back in the frame at Hull, they’re winning a lot of games, and Meyler is in the team. And that’s a good sign. I had a player like that at Sunderland, Dean Whitehead — people used to question him but I said that every time he plays, we get a good result. So Meyler won’t let us down if he gets involved on Friday night — and he’ll have a good chance because he’s playing regularly.”
While Keane acknowledges that Bosnia can call on players of Champions League pedigree, overall he reckons there’s little enough to choose between the two sides “They’ve got some really good players but, I’ll bore you to death, so have we,” he declares. “If you’re a punter and on the outside looking in, I think it’s a hard one to call, I really do. But we’ll give everything we have and see where that takes us.
“We’ve had the usual rollercoaster ride from the last trip, the highs of the Germany game and the disappointment of Poland. The last time when we got together, we had all the scenarios going on: If this happens and that happens, you might be seeded, you might not be. But this is pretty straightforward. There’s no indecision: You either qualify or you don’t.
“What the Germany game has proven is that we can beat the best. Obviously, with the players we have, and one or two coming back for the second leg, the manager will have a look at that. But you can’t get distracted by the second leg until you get though the first one. The biggest mistake you can make in sport is take your eye off the ball. Let’s look at Friday, do the country proud, and and be alive and fighting on Monday night.”