Roy Keane has heaped high praise on Martin O’Neill, saying he has no hesitation about mentioning him in the same breath as managerial greats Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.
“I certainly don’t think we could be in better hands going into the next week than with Martin as the manager,” said Keane on the second day of Ireland’s build-up to the World Cup play-off against Denmark. “The key to the really top managers — and I go back to the managers I worked with — is saying the right thing at the right time. Obviously that will not be through the media but at a team talk, maybe in the dressing room, maybe at half-time, pre-match, or be it in a hotel.
“And I know that if I was a player, I’d like Martin’s messages. Of course you are going to say that I have to say that because I work with him. But, no, I always try to picture myself as a player and if I was a player and these were the messages that I was getting from the manager, I would be going ‘yeah, I get that’.”
Asked if he sees parallels in the work of O’Neill and his former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, Keane replied: “Absolutely, without a doubt. That’s the key. There are hundreds and thousands of coaches out there but management is different. It’s about saying the right thing at the right time, the right tone, the right message. You simplify things.
“I worked with Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson and I have obviously made it clear before about Alex Ferguson that, whatever you are saying about him, to say the right thing at the right time in team talks — it’s sometimes that simple. But it’s difficult. Brian Clough is the same. I’d certainly have no problem mentioning Martin in the same breath as them. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t blink an eyelid at it.”
On the extent of his own contribution to the Irish cause in this defining week, Keane was self-deprecating.
“Very little! I’m not sure what I’m doing here, to be honest with you. I make lots of tea for the staff and stuff. What else do I do? Not too much.”
Which begged the obvious question: Does he fancy making the tea for the next two years?
“For another two years? That’s a good question. We’ll see. I think it’s a strange time for people to be worried about contract situations when we’ve got huge games coming up. All that will fall into place when the games are over and I think the manager has made that clear. We’re focused on the games and it was the same with the last couple of games we had. Let’s look at all that next week. But the priority and focus for everybody, and it should be, is the games coming up and rightly so.
“I’m enjoying my role with Ireland, absolutely. My focus is to try get through the next week and help the team qualify, of course. That’s my, I suppose the word I’m going to use is, desire, at this moment in time. Nothing else. I’m not distracted by anything else out there, I’m not networking, I don’t work that way. My focus is on trying to help the team in the next week or so and if that’s making tea for everyone then hopefully that helps.”
Keane evaded additional attempts to mine some certainty about his own intentions after this campaign, even though O’Neill and the FAI have already verbally agreed a contract extension.
“I can’t answer the question any different to the fact that I enjoy my job here,” said Keane. “I enjoy working with Martin, the FAI, I certainly enjoy working with the players, and I am not distracted or sidetracked by anything. That’s nice. But you also have to look at the bigger picture. If you are secure and safe, well, I am not great with that, either. There has to be an edge. The next week we have that, with the pressure of the games. That is what we are here for.
“If I wanted a safe and secure job, I would probably work in the media a bit more.”
As the two crunch matches against the Danes loom, Keane is encouraged by Ireland’s recent record of successfully handling the pressure of high-stakes games to come out on top against the likes of Germany, Italy, Austria, and Wales.
“Yeah, the players have shown that when there are question marks put to them or doubts over them if they can produce, then they have done so,” he said. “They have got over that line and that’s what it is about: Getting over that line. I keep talking about it — we are here to win. I think that I said it after the Belgium game that people talk about tournaments, making friends, and blah, blah, blah. Or people criticise you or your role.
“But you are here to win and if you keep winning then there is a good chance that we might stay here longer because people might want you to stay on.”
Two defining games
“It is hard to have a conversation about this campaign now because this campaign is not over. It will all mean nothing unless we can get over the line in a very tough game. There are huge battles coming up in the next week. We all talk about the physical side of it, but there’s the emotional side of it, the pressure. But, look, you want to have that pressure. Wales would love to be playing these games. If you had offered us this before the Wales game, we would have said: ‘Bring it on’.”
Offering cautionary advice on yellow cards
“I don’t think that would be a conversation I’d be having with players (smiles). I’ve spoken to James (McClean) before and he’s done the opposite. I know players look at me and think ‘we’re not really going to listen to you on that aspect of the game’. But, again, I think that’s where the experience comes in. The players know what’s at stake. (David) Meyler had to go for a ball in the last minute (against Wales). I think he had to go for it. Robbie (Brady) got a card for kicking the ball away; that’s where it’s a bit silly. Sometimes you can be unfortunate but don’t make it easy for the referee.”
The man in the middle
“If you’ve a good strong referee and he’s going ‘Yeah, I understand it, it’s going to be give and take’, that’s what you want. You don’t want loads of players missing the second leg because of a challenge where you felt both players had to go for the ball. Hopefully, we’re not discussing that too much after the game. Hopefully, the referee will understand it, and he’s experienced, which he is, he knows what’s at stake, and who’s on yellow cards. Obviously,the referee will argue he has to see the decision as it is. But they’re all a decent bunch of lads, as the Denmark lads are too.”
Predicting the result
“I think when you’re looking at the two teams, it’s a hard one to call. We’re aware of their strengths, they’ll be aware of our strengths, I’d like to think they’ve one or two weaknesses. They’ll probably look at us and go ‘we can get at them’. And that’s why I think in a sense it’s a hard game to predict. All we can do and hope is that our players will give everything they have and we produce a little bit of quality, like in the game in Wales.”
“I watched the World Cup in 1982 and was lucky to play in one in 1994, and it would be great for these lads to have that experience. But the Danish lads will be saying exactly the same thing. This will be a huge mental, emotional, and physical challenge. This is what we are born to do.”
Ward and Hendrick
“Wardy has been managing a knee problem over the last one or two years and he played the weekend and will take it easy the next day or two. But I think he’s fine in terms of fitness. Jeff didn’t train today and I can’t really give you an update on Jeff but I’d be more worried if this was Thursday and he hadn’t trained. I won’t be losing any sleep tonight about Jeff being available.”
Eamon Dunphy calling him a cabaret act
“I’ve been called worse. That doesn’t worry me. We’re here to try and win matches for Ireland. The beauty is that everyone is entitled to their opinion and stuff like that certainly wouldn’t keep me awake at night.”
Cork City’s FAI Cup win
“Brilliant. Really good game. I really enjoyed the occasion. I’ve been to the last few finals. Tough on Dundalk but John Caulfield really got a lot out of the players. There was a good tension to the game, there was a lot at stake but I really enjoyed it and I thought that it was brilliant for Cork.”
That Liverpool ‘back garden’ jibe
“It was tongue in cheek. Anyone who has ever spoken to me about football will tell you the huge respect I have for Liverpool. I grew up watching them in the 80s winning leagues every year. My comments were tongue in cheek and hopefully people will see it that way. People should lighten up a little.”
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