Yesterday morning’s breaking news that the Real Madrid superstar is out of the games against Georgia and Ireland might have dominated football conversation here and in Wales but, when he met the daily press a little later in the day, Roy Keane took exception to the idea that it would have created a buzz inside the Irish camp.
“I think that you are way off the point here, talking about a buzz,” he said. “This idea of a buzz and that we were going around knocking on each other’s doors and hugging each other! Jaysus, it’s not...I think Wales got results before without Bale.
“The fact he’s missing doesn’t create any sort of magic from us. It’s still going to be hard. The ball’s back inside of our court. We can’t wait for somebody to do us a favour. We’ve still got to go out and do our own favours.
“In every campaign there’s a twist of fate, ups and downs – going back to our last one with the Scotland game. So whether or not people look at this (Bale) and go, ‘that’s a nice little turn for us’ — it is only if we go out and do the business. Then next week, maybe in hindsight, you can think, ‘well, maybe it did help us’.
“But the idea that the games are going to be any easier…honestly, if ye think I’m trying to pull one over your eyes, no, I truly think it’s going to be as difficult for us to win our two matches, with or without Bale.”
With big players like Jon Walters and, of course, Seamus Coleman out through injury and James McClean and Robbie Brady suspended for Friday’s game against Moldova, Keane hardly needed reminding that Ireland have their own missing persons to lament going into the make or break qualifiers.
“The buzz we had this morning is gone now,” he quipped.
“But it gives other lads an opportunity to come and stake a claim for themselves, whether it would be (Callum) O’Dowda or these boys. (Conor) Hourihane seems to be doing a bit better at Villa. We’ve got new lads in the squad. Whatever about talking about other teams, my goodness, when you look over the last year or two at our regular starting 11 from going into the Euros, (we’re now missing) James (McClean), Brady, Walters and Coleman. McCarthy’s been missing too.
“But you can’t create an excuse environment either. We just have to get on with it and hope the starting 11 will be good enough to get a result against Moldova.
“And you still think, well, if you don’t beat Moldova at home then you shouldn’t be expecting to qualify for too many tournaments. But we know it’s going to be difficult. We saw over there, with one or two lapses of concentration, that we got punished. We’ve seen Moldova holding teams for 75/80 minutes so there might be an element of patience involved on Friday night.
“But we still have to get at them. We cannot just knock the ball around at the back for 75 minutes. We have to get at them.”
As Keane sees it, the Irish management can only do so much to prepare the team for the crunch challenges ahead. In the final analysis, they have to trust the players to deliver when it counts.
“We are here to help them and get certain things right but ultimately with a player, when they are on the ball, that is where football intelligence comes into it,” he said.
“When you are on the sideline and you see the player cross it when they should take a touch, or touch it when they should cross it first time, that is when you hope the players will learn themselves.
“We are here to help the players and encourage them to make the right decisions, and not be so hard if they make the wrong ones. If you look at the effort (against Serbia) it was there, it was just about showing that bit more quality. Also, with the goal we conceded, it’s about better communication, smelling danger. All that goes into the mix in tough international matches.”
With the additional exotic ingredient, this time that the head-melting permutations at play in World Cup qualifying mean even two wins and second place might not be enough to see Ireland through.
“There’s always that conversation but it’s important you don’t get distracted,” said Keane.
“It does happen at club level. In my experience at United, we went to West Ham (on the last day of the 94/95 season when Blackburn Rovers pipped them at the post), thinking, ‘If we draw and Blackburn lose or if we win and they draw...’
“Let’s win the couple of games and then have that discussion. We’re not in a position to control what might creep into players’ mindsets about Bale being missing or two wins mightn’t be enough.
“Let’s win Friday night and get to Wales in good spirits.”
“It’s sad, but he’s made the right decision, no doubt. He’s had an excellent career and seems a real decent guy. He’s 34, he’s had a decent innings and hopefully he’s picked the right time to retire. As everyone else has been saying, your health your wealth.”
“I’m sure there is (more research needed to be done), that’s ongoing. But if you’re worried about the physical side of any sport, you’re wary of it, then play chess. It’s part of the game, whether it be hurling, football, American football, the rugby lads, it’s part of the game. When you cross that line, there is an element of risk involved.”
“Sometimes you need that fox in the box. They have got that, certainly, Maguire and Scott. They have that in their DNA. Now whether they can go and produce it at international level is easier said and done. But if you look at their track record, Maguire and Hogan, you know that, at whatever level they have played, they do know where the back of the net is. And we have just not had someone of that nature.”
“James seems to be getting a lot of injuries at Everton, so I don’t think we’ve anything to worry about with how much we push James. The medical staff are all over it, they’re in contact with Everton. I think they’ve more scientists involved than there needs to be. James has done a little bit with us yesterday, a little bit today, he’ll probably do a little bit tomorrow, a little bit Thursday, maybe a little bit on Friday, probably a little bit on Saturday, a little bit next Sunday and a little bit on Monday. Then, he’ll go back to Everton. I said the last time, clubs, as much as they look at what we’re doing, they have to look at what they’re doing themselves. James seems pretty upbeat and I’m glad to have him here.”
“If you watch it over again, it’s just really poor defending from Everton. I like to think that if we conceded a goal like that we’d be disappointed. As much as I’m delighted for the Irish lads at Burnley — they all seem to be having a really good season — I know that if I was the Everton manager and I saw my players defending like that, I wouldn’t be happy. It was a couple of passes, a couple of square passes, a full-back and a midfielder not going with their runners. So I think it was more the other way around than brilliant play.”
“Listen, that will soon change. After a week working with me, he’ll wish I’d never met him. That’s what most people say after a week. No, it’s nice to have him in and involved. The fact that he is a United fan is irrelevant . He’s now an Irish player and we are glad to have him onboard.”