“I was asked who put my bins out,” he said, illustrating how modern-day footballers rarely do anything for themselves. “I told them the wife did it,” he deadpanned, as the audience at the Clarion Hotel cracked up, one of many occasions they did so at the Bord Gáis Energy ‘Winning in Business’ event yesterday morning.
Keane regularly entertained during the panel discussion with RTÉ’s Conor Brophy, also featuring Dónal Óg Cusack and Fiona Coghlan. At one stage, Brophy enquired if a phone going off angered Keane, prompting the quick but sheepish response that it was actually the Mayfield native receiving the call.
Towards the end of the three-hour show, the overall presenter, UTV Ireland’s Alison Comyn, used her news-anchoring skills to get Keane’s views on a breaking story. Was, she wondered, the phone call from Celtic, seeking him to replace Ronny Deila? The question was straight-batted.
“I’ve two jobs, ITV and Ireland!” he said.
“Nah, no. No comment.”
Managing a team again in the future is on the agenda for the Republic of Ireland assistant manager, though — and not just in the long term, as Brophy asked.
“And the shorter term, as well,” Keane said.
“I’m not going to be an assistant for the next 20 years, having said that I am enjoying my role.
“You have to learn from your own mistakes. It’s no good me analysing Martin [O’Neill] all the time, obviously I’ve my own personality and hopefully I can get back into that soon.
“Obviously, I’m under contract until the summer with the FAI and I’m not going to lose sight of that.
“There are always jobs out there and I’m not going out looking for jobs, if people want you they come looking for you. I’m enjoying it with Martin, but the best place for me to learn is back in the hot-seat.” Were he to take a club job again, he would be reacquainted with the problem of getting rid of dead wood, one which doesn’t apply at national level. His response as to how to deal with troublesome characters was another chance for comedy.
“You put your arm around him,” he said, to rising laughter, “you give him a little squeeze, and then you show him the door!” as the crowd applauded.
“At every club, you’re going to have one or two idiots. They’ll be on a two- or three-year contract, you’ll want to get rid of them and they might want to go but there’ll be nobody wanting to touch them.
“The beauty of the national team is that guys like that, you just drop them if they’re not pulling their weight. It’s horses for courses with a lot of guys, sitting down and having a chat mightn’t always work, sometimes you just give the honest truth and decent people, decent players, don’t mind that.”
Keane acknowledged, similar to Cusack and Coghlan, that the most enjoyable role was in the thick of things, on the field. As captain of Manchester United, high achievement was demanded and he has other cultures difficult to adapt to.
“We had a culture where, if you were beaten on a Saturday — people talk about bouncing back and moving on quickly — but Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, lads would still be fuming, and I loved that,” he said.
“When I went to Aston Villa, Paul Lambert said to me, ‘We have a policy where, if we have a bad result at the weekend, we stew on it for 24 hours and move on quickly’, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t do that’. For me, it might be closer to 24 days. Obviously, Villa were used to it, I wasn’t.
“I couldn’t understand the environment where everyone is laughing and joking on the Monday after a bad game. At Sunderland, people thought that I used to drag the week down — you’re dead right I did. I was used to winning, it was a good habit.”
Such a philosophy was within him long before he pitched up at Old Trafford though, instilled in his days playing in the Cork Schoolboys’ League.
“It wasn’t just at Manchester United, obviously people will remember that the most but I came into that kind of a culture at eight or nine years of age at Rockmount,” he said.
“That was the norm to me at Rockmount, Cobh, Nottingham Forest, though obviously then Cobh was another level. People talk about determination and will to win in my career, but I was surrounded by that at Man United, that’s what made it very easy.
“Being captain of a team like that is the easiest job in the planet, when you’re surrounded by people like yourself with the same aims. Manchester United was everything I wished a football club would be when I was growing up.
“I know people talk about enjoying the game but, even when I was younger, what was instilled in me was that you are playing to win. I don’t remember smiling too much after being beaten. I tend to enjoy games more, even now, when we win.”
Of course, that attitude underpinned the most infamous event of Keane’s career: His dissatisfaction with Ireland’s pre-World Cup preparations in Saipan. Even now he’s adamant that his stand was for the greater good as much as anything else.
“My situation with Ireland was a build-up of stuff going back over a number of years, but we also tried to put down a marker for the players coming through,” he said.
“There does come a point where you say, ‘Enough’s enough’, and whether it’s business or sport, you need that confrontation, sometimes you need to fall out with people and challenge them, ‘Why is this acceptable for Ireland?’ You were looking at other countries and wondering why we were letting it happen — this is making me angry now again, thinking about it,” he said, to much laughter.
“It’s the World Cup, the biggest competition, worth so many million to economy, blah blah blah, and we’ve no balls for training. It wasn’t me going looking for trouble, I didn’t go looking for trouble, but when you become a senior player and then the captain, these things fall on you. It’s not just for the group you’re with, you make sacrifices for the future generations too, as you hope that the players earlier would have done for you.”