The succession of questions about his round of apologies to the players criticised last week got on his goat now and then, but it was a mostly jovial Roy Keane who held court with the media in Dublin ahead of the squad’s departure today for France.
Subsequent news that Keane and Martin O’Neill had inked new contracts with the FAI painted a clearer insight into his mood and thoughts when he was asked if the likes of Aiden McGeady, Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy had accepted his apologies and moved swiftly on.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” he said. “I usually have my hands around their throats when I’m doing it so…”
The reply, delivered with a wicked grin that is just as trademark as the caustic comments made after the Belarus defeat in Cork last week, was vintage Keane and he played down the suggestion that an apologetic, humble Roy was somehow out of character as well.
“I’ve pulled players in at Sunderland and at Ipswich. I remember it like it was yesterday, pulling a few young players in that we had on loan from Tottenham. I was really hard on them in training and I pulled them in afterwards and I said ‘I was over the top’ and they were fine, so it does happen.”
No big deal, he said.
Anyway, Keane has moved on from all that. So have the team judging by the fact he has sensed an upping of the ante at training this past two days, though he won’t be holding his tongue if he feels another lashing is required in France.
“Don’t get mixed up in that,” he stressed.
“Of course. My job is to motivate players, to push people and try and get them to another level. That will never change. I’m sick of saying it, but I have been like that since I was a young player.
“There’s ways of doing it. I’d like to think I get it right a lot, but if there are times you think ‘well, maybe that was a bit harsh’ I’ll have no problem saying to somebody ‘listen, that was maybe a bit unfair’. You hold your hand up.”
That said, there is a sense that the build-up has been calibrated better than four years ago when Giovanni Trapattoni preferred the iron fist to the velvet glove, although Keane observed that the ‘no excuses this time’ theory would only stand up to so much.
“If we lose the three games, I’m sure we’ll find some, don’t worry.”
He was joking but it is hard to criticise the modus operandi. Players have been allowed visit family in Dublin, mosey about for a coffee or catch up on some sleep on their time off. The relaxed approach is such that even team bonding events such as a trip to the movies are optional.
That wasn’t always the case.
“I remember when I was in the Irish squad many years ago and I think we had to go to a music concert,” he explained.
“I think it was the Stereophonics. I don’t even like them and I had to go.
“So those days are gone that you are dragging people around to concerts. ‘Listen lads, that’s on tonight, if you fancy it — if you don’t ... you’re dropped!”
Such a feelgood vibe invites the inevitable question: How far can Ireland go?
“I’m just glad to be making it to the tournament, usually I miss out on these things,” he said with one last smile.
“I still have a few days to play with so I’ll just be glad to be there. I’ll just be cheering that I’ve made the first game.”
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