Martin O’Neill says he never detected any sense Roy Keane had fallen out of love with football before asking him to be his assistant as Ireland manager.
In extracts from his new autobiography, Keane reveals O’Neill’s approach had been the perfect tonic for a football man who’d grown somewhat disillusioned with the game.
“I played the cool character but I had a real buzz about myself,” Keane writes of O’Neill’s offer. “It gave me a bit of joy and I’d lost that in football, definitely. I was doing the TV work, still going to watch matches and enjoying them but I had no purpose in my life.”
Despite having got to know each other through their work for ITV, O’Neill said yesterday that Keane’s revelation came as a surprise to him.
“I’d spoken to him at Champions League games and not seen it at all,” he said. “I thought his love of football was shining through. He wanted to talk about the game — not so much about his own experiences as a player, really to do with management. Again, I was not party to his innermost thoughts. But there were other people around us, like Andy Townsend, who’d say the same thing — that Roy’s love of the game hadn’t diminished.”
And on Keane’s declaration that O’Neill’s offer game him a real buzz, the manager remarked: “At that stage, maybe people wanted to stay clear of him. Now that he is with us, he’s getting offers every day. There you go.”
Inevitably, O’Neill’s press briefing on the touchline in Malahide in advance of Saturday’s game against Gibraltar was dominated by the premature release of extracts from Keane’s book.
But the manager insisted it was nothing he couldn’t take in his stride.
“People say is this a distraction? I don’t feel it,” he said. “Something will always come up. If it wasn’t a book, it would be something else. It’s the nature of it in the build-up to matches here. It’s never been any different. So from that viewpoint, to me it’s not a distraction. (But) I haven’t read it. You may well come back to me in 36 hours if I’d have a look at it and I’m saying that’s a major distraction.”
As it happens, in the initial extracts from the book the only possible bone of contention for O’Neill as Ireland manager might have been Keane’s reference to John O’Shea playing “like a fucking clown” when he first came up against Ronaldo.
And O’Neill seemed more than relieved when reassured that the context of the quote made clear that there had been humour rather than malice in the remark
“They mentioned it down there to me,” said O’Neill referring to the broadcasters who’d been the first to interrogate him after training. “I haven’t seen the thing and I don’t know if they were trying to make a lot of it. But… was it a bit of a joke? Was it? Alright. Brilliant.”
Employing his own brand of humour to full effect, as is his wont, O’Neill reiterated he no regrets about not seeing the book in advance of publication.
“No, no, honestly, I feel really comfortable that I haven’t,” he said. “I’m happy to be speaking to you in the dark, as I normally have done since last November. I thought about (asking to see it) at one stage or another but then, why? He’s over 21, I think, and he should be capable of dealing with his own stuff.”
Insisting that all he knew of the book’s contents were what he’d been briefed on by an FAI press officer, O’Neill went on: “I genuinely don’t know what the headlines are in the book. It obviously was going to cause some sort of furore at some stage or another, the very fact he put his name to this book would suggest that’s exactly what would happen. It’s there and it doesn’t matter. The games are the most important things for us.”
Does it become tiresome talking so much about Keane, then?
“Not necessarily, not at all. He’s an iconic figure. He’s been here for a long time, you know that. He was an absolutely fantastic footballer and now he’s making his way in management.”
Is there any advantage in the fact that the Keane headlines are breaking earlier than expected in the international week?
“I really don’t know. (Smiling) Didn’t John (Delaney) bring out his documentary on the day of the Georgia game?”
What had he made of that, by the way?
“I haven’t seen it yet.”
Finally, having had the temerity to criticise the media’s dress sense the last time we’d met, we wondered if O’Neill had any plans to tackle Keane on the subject of his profuse beard?
“Well I must admit, I might well do because he looks really bedraggled. There is no doubt at all about it but I think he wants to join your group so I think that’s the essence of it.”
Keane says he was hardest on Corkmen Healy and Delaney
Roy Keane admits when it came to management, he was hardest on his county men, Damien Delaney and Colin Healy.
Delaney, now a stalwart at Premier League Crystal Palace, came in for a tough time during Keane’s ill-fated reign as boss of Ipswich Town, as did Colin Healy, who is currently leading Cork City’s bid to win the Airtricity Premier Division.
Keane now admits he regrets how he treated the pair.
“Damien Delaney came in and did okay. I was hard on him, probably because I knew him and he was from Cork. I went over the top,” said Keane in his book.
“I was the same with another lad, Colin Healy. He was from Cork, too, and I told him he was moving his feet like a League of Ireland player.
“It was wrong. Colin was new at the club; I should have been bending over backwards for him.”
Meanwhile, Keane enthused yesterday about the progress of the latest Cork call-up to the Irish squad, Brian Lenihan.
“He has got a good move,” he said. “I saw him a few times for Cork City and he’s a fit boy, apparently he has settled in really well at Hull and there is no harm bringing young players in, you’ve nothing to lose.”
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