As he contemplates a season in the Championship with newly promoted MK Dons — the club at which he is increasingly forging a coaching role — Keith Andrews insists he is not bitter about the abrupt manner in which his international career with Ireland dried up soon after the Euro 2012 finals.
“As hot-headed as I can be, I absolutely never hold grudges,” says the 34-year-old Dubliner.
“Football is football, and I’ve been in it a long time. In the last few months, when I’ve been going to watch games, I’ve bumped into managers that I wouldn’t have seen eye to eye with but in the world of football if you held grudges, you wouldn’t be sleeping well at night.
“The end of my Irish career also coincided with injury problems I had and, as well as that, I’ve always been a big, big fan of James McCarthy. Of course, I wanted to be involved more. And it wasn’t so much (Giovanni) Trapattoni as Martin O’Neill who put an end to it when he took over but, no, it is what it is and I certainly don’t hold any grudges.”
It was an Andrews goal which set Ireland on their way to the 4-0 first leg play-off win in Estonia that effectively secured qualification for Euro 2012 where, in the context of what was a bitterly disappointing tournament for Trapattoni’s team — and one which ended on a sour personal note for Andrews when he was sent off against Italy — the midfielder emerged with sufficient credit to pick up the FAI Irish Player Of The Year award.
Ironically, one of Andrews’ first ports of call this summer will be back at Ireland’s training base of Gannon Park in Malahide in early July, when the Dons come to Dublin for their first pre-season as members of the Championship.
The player’s loan move from Bolton, via Watford, in January was, he says, never solely about extending his playing career, although he did turn out for the side on a handful of occasions.
But, increasingly, his concentration has been more on his own development as a coach in tandem with being a member of manager Karl Robinson’s staff at the club which helped launch his top-flight career in football. Seven years ago, Andrews scored the decisive goal in a 3-2 win against Stockport County which saw the Dons promoted to League One, and when manager Paul Ince moved on to Blackburn Rovers it wasn’t long before Andrews was following him to the Premier League.
Now, the unwinding end game for his playing career is intersecting with his first steps on the road to coaching.
“The manager and the chairman here have literally given me full access to every single corner of the football club to go and start my education as a coach and one day hopefully a manager,” he explains.
Officially, Andrews is still on loan from Bolton but his contract with Wanderers ends in June and he says he is happy with a “gentleman’s agreement” he has with the Dons to stay with the club next season.
“It’ll be similar to what I’ve been doing for the last three or four months,” he says, “basically first-team coaching — alongside Karl Robinson’s assistant Richie Barker — as well as development work and one-to-one with a lot of the players.”
As he begins looking to new horizons, Andrews can reflect on plenty of happy memories in his career, including seeing Premier Division action with Blackburn Rovers and West Brom.
But he has no hesitation in citing pulling on the green jersey as the highest of highs.
“Nothing will ever get near to playing for my country,” he says. “Everybody who comes across me knows how patriotic I am.
“They were great times and will always remain close to my heart.
“I met some unbelievable people that I still keep in contact with — staff, players and fans — and I’ll be eternally grateful to Giovanni Trapattoni for giving me the opportunity. That would have to be the pinnacle.”
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