ROY KEANE says he wouldn’t swap his time working with Alex Ferguson “for anything” but joked that he couldn’t reveal what crossed his mind when the two men found themselves on the same plane back from a Champions League game in Paris in February.
Ireland’s assistant manager added that he gets worried if he doesn’t fall out with people every few months. And, while discussing his return to the senior Irish international set-up, he admitted: “I’m a good one for holding resentments when people have wronged me.”
To mark today’s official Guide Dog Day, a relaxed and cheerful Keane made the remarks in the course of an interview with Kevin Kelly, a guide dog owner and member of Blind Football Ireland, in front of a small group of Irish Guide Dogs’ clients from around the country.
Asked about almost crossing paths with his nemesis Ferguson on that flight from Paris, Keane replied: “I spotted him. But he was with his wife and, I thought, I’ll leave him to it. Football is a small world and you’re going to come across people you’ve had disagreements or fallouts with.”
When pressed by Kelly as to his initial gut reaction, Keane quipped to laughter from his audience: “There are some kids here — I better not say what crossed my mind.”
But then, in a more serious tones, he offered some conciliatory words about his relationship with the former Manchester United manager.
“I fell out with Ferguson towards the end,” he said, “but I had 12½ great years working with him and I wouldn’t swap it for anything. It was brilliant. Again, when you’re in a sporting environment and you’re trying to win football matches and there’s lots of pressure… even when I was a manager I liked people to fall out with each other, I liked people to have disagreements. That is the nature of the game we’re in. If everybody is agreeing all the time, there’s something wrong here. So the fact that I have disagreements with Ferguson or ex-team mates, to me that’s the most natural thing in the world. I get worried if I don’t fall out with people every few months.”
On the subject of his return to the Irish set-up as Martin O’Neill’s assistant, Keane admitted that it was not something he’d seen coming.
“Not in a million years — particularly after my one or two disagreements,” he said. “But I’ve always been lucky throughout my career. The people and the opportunities that have been put in front of me — the man upstairs has always been looking after me.
“Even with the disagreements with Ireland when I left, then for Martin O’Neill to get the job – I had a bit of time for Martin anyway, I’d done a few games with him for ITV. He said, ‘listen, do you want to come over (to work) with the senior team for Ireland?’ I’m a good one for holding resentments when people have wronged me, so I thought it was a good way of going back.
“And I love working with the Irish senior team. It’s frustrating a little bit because obviously you might have eight matches a year and I still a little bit miss managing at club level. But working with Martin and the other staff, they’re really good people. I enjoy working with the team. It’s hard work because we’re short of players, we’ve only a small pool of players. But we’re having a go.”
Keane said that the Irish management try hard to get the work, rest and play balance right when the players are in camp in Malahide. “When you’re training, you’re training but when you’re off, you’re off,” he said. “We treat the players like adults, in the evenings they can go for a coffee and relax.”
By way of offering a contrast with how things used to be, he brought the house down with an anecdote about the early 90s when he first broke into Irish side.
“When I was playing many years ago with Jack Charlton, it was very much a drinking culture,” he noted. “We’d have a game on a Wednesday and turn up on the Sunday and the players would want to go out that night. Jack would say, ‘Alright lads, but I want ye back in the hotel for midnight’. I would say nothing. I’d just be in the background thinking, ‘12 o’clock is nothing’. But some of the senior players would say, ‘Jack, 12 is an awkward time’. And it is — who comes home at 12 o’clock? So he’d say, ‘Alright, 1am then’. ‘But Jack, one o’clock’s not a great time either ‘cos if you’re out at one, you’re obviously in a club somewhere’. So he’d say, ‘Alright then, be back for two’. But then we’d say, ‘if you’re in a club you’re not going to leave before two’. So Jack would eventually say, ‘Just be back in the morning for training’.”
Looking ahead to the matches in June and the rest of Ireland’s Euro qualifying campaign, Keane observed: “There will be an edge to that game against England but the priority for us is the game against Scotland.”
And will Ireland qualify for France? “It’s going to be tough. I think it was a very difficult draw for us, when you look at the other groups. It will be touch and go. Obviously we have to get a result against Scotland. Once we give a 100%, what will be, will be. If we get there, fantastic.”
But Keane clearly has concerns about the squads age profile.
“The players aren’t getting any younger,” he said. “In our last game against Poland, Robbie (Keane) was upfront. Robbie’s 34. John O’Shea our centre half is 34. Shay was in goal — Shay’s about 64 (laughter). It’s tough going. We have a tough few years ahead of us but once the players have a go, that’ll do me. And if we qualify, fantastic. If we don’t and everyone gave a 100%, I’ll be just as happy.”
Talking about his long involvement with the Guide Dogs, Keane remarked: “I got involved many years ago, thinking it might last one or two years, but I think the Guide Dogs are like the Mafia — once you join it you can’t leave!”
He urged the public to support Guide Dog Day by texting WOOF to 50300 to donate €4 or buy a badge at a collection point. For more information go to www.guidedogs.ie or LoCall 1850506300.
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