Roy Keane: It’s time for Ireland to stand up and fight

There was more than a hint of that Munster warrior spirit coming off Roy Keane yesterday as he issued his own defiant call to arms ahead of the make or break game against Italy in Lille tomorrow.

“We could talk about sports science all day, trying to get players up — it sounds straightforward — for two huge games in four or five days,” he said at one point.

“It can take its toll on players who are maybe not used to that. But that’s not making excuses. You’d still want lads to look after the ball a bit better and have a bit more care in possession. And a bit more courage — show for their team-mates and give them some options. If you get fouled you get up and you get up pretty quickly.

“You don’t look for sympathy off anybody. Get up. Get up and starting fighting. Fight for the cause.”

Or maybe, the British alternative music band, Chumbawumba, are as good a reference point as Paul O’Connell for what Keane thinks is now required of the Irish players. They got knocked down and they must get up again — and the assistant manager points to evidence in the team’s track record to support his belief that they have the character to do just that.

“Based on the experience we’ve had working with the players, yeah,” he said. “The first challenge was to get out of the qualifying group which the players have done despite one or two setbacks - Scotland away, etc. And we always felt going into this tournament that we’d probably have to win a game and that we’d have a setback of some sort.

“That’s what we’ve had. We’ve had the rollercoaster of football, the ups and downs, squeezed in within three or four days, and another game around the corner. We haven’t even got time to over analyse the last game: it’s more a case of let’s get ready, put all our energy and efforts into the next game and believe we can get a result.

“That’s what you love about the game. People said after the Sweden match that we did well and I said you’ve got to move on. And you really have to do that after a poor performance and a defeat.”

Keane welcomes the fact that, for Ireland, Euro 2016 has already reached the knock-out phase in the shape of an all or nothing final group game.

“I’m looking at it as a positive thing,” he said. “Put it this way, in the first one or two games, it’s ‘would a draw not be too bad?’ or ‘what about two clean sheets?’ Now, we’ve got to go and win a game of football — which should be in your DNA anyway.

“I’ve no issue with the fact that we’re going into the game, knowing we have to win. Because you should be in that mindset when you start kicking a ball for the first time on the street. It’s a very tough game but we always felt it was a tough group.

“Italy are an outstanding team — but we’ve got to win.”

Keane all but confirmed that there would be changes in the Irish starting line-up.

“There are lads in the background champing at the bit and there will have been three hard games in eight or nine days,” he said.

“You have got to look at the personnel and that’s why you bring a squad. And if one or two lads don’t seem quite at it then the reality of the sport is that you try somebody else. That’s the game we are in.”

There has been much speculation that Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy, Wes Hoolahan and even Shane Long could be set to make way but only Martin O’Neill knows for sure and he wasn’t saying anything yesterday.

But Roy Keane’s observation that Jon Walters “upped the pace in his recovery” raised hopes a fraction that one of the changes for Lille might actually be the return of a first-choice player.

“Knowing his mindset, knowing Jon as I do I believe he’ll be very positive about trying to get involved.,” said Keane. “That’s why the next 24 hours - we’ve been saying this about Jon the last few weeks- is vital. He’s not joined up (in training) today. If he’s going to do anything he’ll have to do it on (Tuesday).

“He would have to kick a ball or do something as you wouldn’t take that level of risk going into a huge game.

“I don’t think Stoke comes into. I think the medical staff and the manager have always been fair with the clubs. It’s more what’s fair for the player, what’s fair for Ireland? Players have to be number one in our priorities. Stoke have him quite a bit of the time, so it will come from the player no doubt.”

But it’s what’s to come from all the Irish players on the pitch tomorrow night which most preoccupies Keane.

“I think we will learn a lot about our players’ character against Italy,” he said.

“It will be intriguing to see the players then. It’s been a really good two years working with them. They have not let us down. They’ve had disappointments and had bad performances and this is where the courage comes into it — courage as a sportsman. We see it in other sports - boxing is the best one, you are in the ring one v one. And now we have lads who are representing Ireland in a huge game.

“The other day (against Belgium), we were disappointed. In general, I think there is no problem losing in sport if you gave of your best. But we know that there is more to come from these players so there would be a real feeling of anti-climax if we did not get a result or felt that we left something behind.

“People can talk about individual mistakes — that’s part of the game. I was watching the golf the other night: people make mistakes. It’s sport. But I am positive about what we bring to the party on Wednesday. It’s an opportunity, dead right. That’s the way we look at it.”

“We talk about history. I think that should be enjoyed. I think some people are wary of mentioning all of this with players. There’s no reason to shy away from it. Some of them going back over the years will remember World Cups and Ireland doing really well and having big moments — and we need to get that on Wednesday.”

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