Recently-appointed Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has revealed he thought his players would be “concerned” about the addition of Roy Keane to his managerial ticket.
O’Neill dropped a bombshell on the FAI earlier this month by nominating the former Ireland captain as his assistant, a development few could have forecasted given Keane’s fractious past with the governing body.
While at the time of their appointment and the subsequent games against Latvia and Poland, O’Neill insisted Keane’s return would be universally welcomed within the set-up, he has now admitted there was a degree of trepidation on behalf of the players.
The new Ireland boss, back in the country last night to officially open the new branch of Murray-Spelman Insurance in Naas, unloaded his innermost thoughts on the factors at play during the first meet-up of the squad almost three weeks ago.
“I think the players might secretly have been a little bit concerned about Roy but he’s been really excellent,” said the Derry native.
“He’s already made a great impression on the players themselves. I just want to say something about Roy. When I mentioned to him if he fancied it (the job), he jumped at the chance.
“He jumped at it immediately and said “let’s go and do it, it will be great”. I personally think he’ll be fantastic for the nation.
“He wants to do it. He has enthusiasm — which is always there and is there in abundance.
“If enthusiasm alone was to get us through that would be great but unfortunately we need a bit of luck along the way. We’ve got some decent players as well.”
Signals of Keane’s enthusiasm were in full view on the sidelines during the two opening games and he’s continued to apply himself passionately to the job.
Today, for example, he’ll not only attend Nottingham Forest’s Championship match against Reading at the City Ground but will also cast his eye on his former club’s next generation during the afternoon when their U21s host Coventry City.
Keane is then scheduled to link up with O’Neill at Goodison Park tomorrow where as many as six Irish players could feature in the Premier League game between Everton and Stoke City.
The pair were also hard at work last weekend; their first back at the coalface following their international duties. O’Neill turned up at Ewood Park to scout on Stephen Kelly and Alex Pearce in the Reading line-up against Blackburn, while his sidekick took in Stoke City’s top-flight fixture against Sunderland.
With his trademark dry wit, O’Neill stated last night he had to choose his words carefully in describing his new deputy, and used the host for the occasion — RTÉ correspondent Tommie Gorman — to illustrate the point.
“Tommie, of course, got the interview with Roy after those famous days in Saipan (in 2002),” he said.
“He was the only one to get anything from Roy at that particular time and may that continue.
“I’m only jesting; this might get back to Keane. I might lose an assistant manager — I might have lost him anyway.
“It’s hopefully going to be a bit of fun along the way. We’ll hopefully get Roy smiling once or twice and everybody might be happy.”
In the company of Irish sporting greats such as Kerry GAA legend Mikey Sheehy, Galway’s All-Ireland winner Padraic Joyce and ex-Irish rugby player Mick Galwey, O’Neill posted an upbeat prediction for his tenure ahead.
There may be a long wait until the Euro 2016 qualifiers begin next September but the former Celtic manager doffed his hat to the past manager before looking ahead with optimism.
“I’m following in the footsteps of an absolutely fantastic manager in Giovanni Trapattoni and it would be great to be successful with the Republic of Ireland,” he concluded.
Ireland boss needs run of wins
Martin O’Neill will need to hit the ground running if Ireland are to arrest their slide in Fifa rankings and improve their prospects for reaching the 2018 World Cup.
Yesterday’s latest listing from the world governing body positioned Ireland in 67th place, which would make them a fifth seed in the draw for the 2018 showpiece in Qatar.
For their standing to improve, Ireland must embark on a two-year run of wins from the next outing in March against Serbia.
Unlike Uefa’s criteria for calculating rankings, Fifa includes friendlies. The period used to derive rankings is from June 2011 to June 2015.
Ireland’s lowest-ever ranking results from a disastrous 2013 on the pitch, despite the recent win over Latvia, as they suffered their steepest calendar year drop from 41 down to 67.
That leaves Ireland staring forlornly above them at the likes of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
From a European perspective, the dip in form has plummeted them to the lowly status of being ranked 38th of Uefa’s 52 affiliated nations.
As the seedings are typically split into sections of nine nations, O’Neill’s side needs to rise three places to attain a fourth seeding before soaring beyond 27th spot to be amongst the third seeds.
On the upside, Ireland’s second seeding for the Euro 2016 draw in February boosts their chances of an upturn of results before the calculation window closes.
However, should O’Neill and Roy Keane’s Ireland travel to the United States in May to face top nations preparing for the World Cup in Brazil, a live threat hangs over their ability to emerge from their slumber.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved