Republic of Ireland v USA
Tonight: Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm
We’ve previously had Irish management pre-match press conferences dominated by the subject of Roy Keane.
And we’ve previously had Irish management pre-match press conferences dominated by the subject of players who are missing for the game.
But yesterday, at the Liffeyside headquarters of FAI sponsors 3, the two strands came together in a knotty embrace which it fell to Martin O’Neill to try and unpick before he could turn his audience’s attention to tonight’s friendly against the USA at the Aviva Stadium.
Surprisingly, the manager claimed not to have “picked up” on Keane’s own, at times, high octane press conference from the previous day, in the course of which he had raised what seemed like entirely legitimate questions about Everton’s attitude to James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman going on international duty.
The assistant manager expressed concern that McCarthy, in particular, was coming under pressure to put club before country to such an extent that Keane felt a clear the air meeting between the two parties might be required.
O’Neill, however, opted to outline a rather more prosaic scenario.
“First of all I haven’t picked up on Roy’s comments,” he began. “I don’t follow him around. I haven’t had the chance to read what he has said.
“From my own perspective, regardless of what Roy has said, I think the situation was this: The two lads were not fit for the game against Gibraltar and Germany and obviously played a couple of days later. That is understandable.
“I had spoken to Seamus and Seamus just wasn’t right. I didn’t speak to James at the time but there was a thought that he might have played against Manchester United (the previous weekend) but didn’t do so. I hadn’t really a problem with that at all.
“This particular time, James does have a muscle injury. He came here, he was wanting to try it and really wanted to give it a go. We always thought time would be against us and I think he will be perfectly alright to play at the weekend for his club and, really, there isn’t much more I can say about it.”
Defending Keane’s contribution to the Irish cause, O’Neill said: “Every single time you mention Roy, it either seems to be a distraction or another issue.
“Let me tell you straight: I’m delighted to have him. I chose in the first place to bring him in here (and) he’s really been terrific. He has been terrific around the lads. He has been everything I wanted him to be.
“All the distractions — some things have materialised that actually aren’t of his doing to begin with, so I haven’t a problem. He’s got a mind of his own, he can say what he wants. Again, unless it’s absolutely and utterly in contradiction with what I am saying to you, then I do not have a problem with it. It is not an issue all the time.”
When it was then put to O’Neill that his view on the McCarthy and Coleman issue appeared to contradict — or at least not take account of — Keane’s insinuation of more baleful forces at work, the manager stuck to his guns.
“I’ll get back to what I say. I was a club manager before. The last thing you want is players playing in a game for their country when you thought they might not be ready, it is as simple as that.
“To anyone else, you might think there is something a bit strange about it. I have my own view on it and that is what I am telling you.”
O’Neill said he had most recently spoken to Everton boss Roberto Martinez last Monday, adding: “He should be pretty pleased. Seamus might not start tomorrow evening although he might play, but at least he has got James back. James will be back fit for the weekend and, as a club manager, he should be pretty pleased about that. Could James have played (against the US)? I suppose there was always a possibility, it’s a friendly game, but I still think that a couple of extra days between now and the weekend will help him on that muscle injury.”
By the end of the press conference, however, O’Neill was saying he would indeed bring himself up to speed on Keane’s comments, in light of the then just breaking news, that Everton chairman Bill Kenwright had hit back at the Cork man’s remarks, saying: “I’m a big fan of Roy Keane’s but he does say some stupid things.”
Asked if he might now fully acquaint himself with what Keane had said in the light of the robust response from Goodison, O’Neill conceded: “I think that I will, yes. It is not my job to read the newspapers every single morning. I have other things to do at this minute. I’m not saying they are moreimportant but they are issues I have to address. I might get a chance to go down and find out what was said on both sides and then I will take a view.”
O’Neill also chose not to become embroiled in a debate about whether Keane’s observation the previous day on the prospects of Jack Grealish declaring for Ireland — “We could be waiting a bloody long while, knowing his Dad” — might be unhelpful to the cause.
“He’s made the point, has he not?” said the manager, who at times looked distinctly uncomfortable with the turn the press conference was taking.
“What do you want me to say? Seriously, what do you want me to go and do? If you are asking about young Grealish, it would be nice to have someone like that on board. (But) I have said to you — and I don’t need Roy Keane to tell me — I’m not going to go and chase him.
“I have spoken to Jack Grealish’s father, I have spoken to Jack Grealish and it’s up to them, it’s as simple as that.”
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