By all accounts, yesterday’s training session in Abbotstown was, as they like to say in the trade, a bit tasty. And certainly to the taste of a watching Roy Keane.
“I woke up this morning and thought, ‘let’s hope there’s a bit of edge to training’,” he said, after everyone had cooled down.
“And that’s exactly what it was. And that’s what you want from your players. Obviously, you want to peak on Sunday but there was a nice feeling to training. Players were just on the edge with some of the stuff we were doing. It was good. I like the one or two days before a game. All the stuff last week I could take with a pinch of salt but this these couple of days and the Sundays, you’re like, ‘that’s what we’re here for’. “I’ve said it before: the foreplay is over.”
The object now, of course, is to bring that same intensity, and more, to bear against Austria in tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier at the Aviva.
“We want players playing on the edge, lads putting their bodies on the line,” said Keane. “They’ve done that before, players like Seamus Coleman - he broke his leg. You go out on the pitch and you put your body on the line, you have to be able to accept that. People have done a lot more for their country than break their legs. People have died for their country. All we’re asking is that they put their bodies on the line to try and win a game. They’ve got to give everything they have got. I’ve always had that mindset, but we want that from this group of players because we are going into battle on Sunday. You have to put your body on the line like Seamus did.
“You give everything - and then hopefully we get a few moments of quality to win the game.”
The assistant manager seemed especially keen to stress the need for the Irish players to be fully engaged tomorrow, given the widespread perception they go in as favourites against an already under-performing Austrian so weakened by absentees as to appear to be in a state of some disarray. Keane, however, is not buying that narrative for one minute.
“I’ve never underestimated a team in my life, going back to when I was eight years of age,” he said. “No, you can’t think like that. This game kicks you in the teeth. With Ireland, I don’t ever remember having any sort of easy game, even against the so-called minnows of world football. We’ve always found it hard to win football matches and that will be the same on Sunday.
“I think Austria will be enjoying, as you would if you were in their camp, that people are writing them off. But how can we afford to write anybody off? They have got some good players and probably should have nicked a draw against us in Vienna with the last kick of the game. Don’t worry about the players who are not there - we are missing a few players.
“You have been watching Irish football for 10,15, 20 years - we are nowhere near good enough to think we can (complacently) approach an international against a team that has a good record and with really good players and a manager under so-called pressure. Everyone is under pressure - the pressure is to win. Don’t waste any more questions about ‘disarray in their camp’.”
But, as much as he refuses to underestimate Austria, Keane is equally adamant this Irish team has what it takes to meet the challenge.
“I have good belief in these players that they will certainly not shy away from what’s in front of them,” he said. “Players are maturing, players like James McClean are getting more games under their belt, players will feel the benefit from playing at a major tournament against better players. We probably didn’t produce enough in terms of quality against Wales. People are talking about Austria missing players, but we were missing players that night. On Sunday, they will roll their sleeves up and kind of dig in there, which is what you want. That goes without saying but you do need - whether it’s someone lashing one in or a set-piece delivery - you do need moments of quality.”
Hence, the feeling of relief in the camp that, having missed the Wales game, Robbie Brady returns from suspension tomorrow.
“Yes, it’s a big plus for us,” said Keane, “in the sense when you look at set-pieces in any big match, whatever about people’s movement, if the delivery is not right you’re wasting your time. Robbie’s delivery is as good as anyone out there and that’s a big plus for us. If he starts (smiles).”
The crowd at Sunday’s 3-1 victory against Uruguay certainly enjoyed the high standard of some of the build-up play Ireland produced in that friendly encounter. But does Roy Keane think this Irish team can exhibit more of that kind of quality football in the very different, competitive context of tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier? “You would hope so but it’s a different animal on Sunday,” he replied. “Different pressures, different emotions, different expectations. It’s alright saying you played lovely moments of football (last week) but you need to do that on Sunday. And also find a way to win. We won’t be defined by what happens in friendly matches. We’ll be defined by what happens in these big games. And since we’ve come into the job, I think the players have done great, really have done great.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved