Kevin Kilbane believes Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could prove to be the Republic of Ireland’s aces in the pack at this summer’s European Championship.
Manager Martin O’Neill will be assisted by former Manchester United captain Roy Keane as Ireland look to battle out of a tough group.
Having qualified via the play-offs, O’Neill’s men will compete in Group E alongside Italy, Sweden and Belgium knowing they must shake off the underdog tag to make it further in the competition.
Four years ago in Euro 2012, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland crashed out without taking a point and having scored just one goal in their three group matches in Poland.
But Kilbane, who collected 110 caps during his own international career with Ireland, thinks O’Neill and Keane can make a big difference this time around.
“I think they will take a lot of the limelight away from the players,” Kilbane said yesterday.
“It is a good thing, in the build-up all the spotlight will be on Martin and Roy and the players will accept that.
“If in the build-up games there are some controversies, Martin has a masterstroke and can send Roy out— if the team has had a bad game it takes away in many respects how bad the team’s performance was.
“We have a good element there and it plays into his hands, he is a top manager and has a way about him.”
For Keane, it is a chance to have an impact at a major tournament after the then-United man left Ireland’s 2002 World Cup camp after falling out with manager Mick McCarthy.
Kilbane concedes Keane will be asked about that experience but has also backed the former Sunderland and Ipswich boss to lay those ghosts to rest.
Asked whether this could be the finals where Keane has the most impact so far in his career, the BBC pundit replied: “He was in the squad in 1994 in the USA.
“But there is that element, there is that bit of pressure and scrutiny on him after what happened in 2002.
“He has done a good job and Roy has brought something different to Martin O’Neill and he is doing a lot of the coaching and has a good relationship with the players.
“There will be questions about that but he will bat it away in the way only Roy can do, he is going to have a major say and Martin O’Neill knows that.
“He is a manager who reads situations well and he read it perfectly.
“He knew that bringing Roy in would make them a dynamic duo and it has worked well. When we looked dead and buried after losing to Scotland in Dublin, something happened. Martin took the suit off, had his tracksuit on in the technical area and he was the old Martin O’Neill.”
Kilbane reckons only a true team effort can help Ireland defy the odds in France - but said a lack of superstars means O’Neill at least has a familiar group of players.
“We are up against it but the one thing in our favour is we have a settled side,” he added.
“Everyone talks about who England will pick and play but we have got a settled side, Martin probably knows his squad now even though he won’t announce it until the end of the month.
“It is not going to be an individual who gives us a bit of spark, it will be about how we combine as a team and play together.”
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