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Roy Keane settling in nicely with the Republic of Ireland again, for now

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Roy Keane watching Ireland in action against Latvia last week in Dublin.
Roy Keane watching Ireland in action against
Latvia last week in Dublin
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Roy Keane made many comments over the past seven days – including a wonderful claim that he is Mother Theresa next to Martin O’Neill, which their former boss Niall Quinn must have found amusing – but one observation had more resonance than the others.

Ignoring the fact that he has promised to eventually respond to Alex Ferguson’s claims in his latest book -- filled with over 40 factual errors by the way as his publishers have admitted -- Keane’s comments of a circus variety deserve further examination.

Speaking to the Sunday newspaper journalists on Wednesday of last week, when he did vow to answer the Fergie criticism at a better time, Keane expressed his amazement at the fact that a circus now surrounds his every move.

And he’s not wrong. No assistant manager in world football has commanded more column inches and media attention in the past week than Keano. No number two has ever spent as long in the spotlight since O’Neill made the shock appointment.

In fact, I would struggle right now to tell you who is the assistant to Roy Hodgson in the England camp.  I think Mark McGhee is number two to Gordon Strachan with Scotland, and I know Billy McKinlay works alongside Michael O’Neill with Northern Ireland.

Who’s the Spanish number two? Or the Portuguese Keano? Or the Dutch version?

I haven’t a clue and I doubt most of you, my two or three avid readers, have either. That’s a footballing fact of life.

Assistant managers in the international game are not there to be seen and heard by the public. They are there to be seen and heard by the players and the players alone.

What they think about world peace or World Cup hopes are by and large irrelevant anywhere other than inside the four walls of the dressing room.

Keane cast in the role of assistant manager is a different story altogether, of course. It has to be, particularly when he has assumed the role with the team that represents a country besotted with his every move.

Keane is box office in Ireland.  The entire population has an opinion on him.

The entire country wants to know what he is going to do for Ireland and how he is going to behave in the unusual role of understudy, a role that never suited him on the pitch in his playing days with Manchester United or his country.

He was right last week when he also suggested that he is not an animal who needs to be tamed but he is a beast – a media beast before his many fans jump down my throat.

And that infatuation among headline writers for all things Roy isn’t going to go away any day soon.

No sooner had O’Neill emerged from the tunnel in the Aviva Stadium for the first time on Friday night than the cameras began to search for the first spotting of Roy Keane ahead of the Latvia game.

No sooner had the RTE cameraman spotted O’Neill at the Ireland-Australia rugby game on Saturday afternoon in the same venue than he turned his attentions – and his lens – to Keane, two seats away.

That’s the way it is going to be now.  Keane as Ireland assistant manager is a circus act, and he will have to get used to it.

Studying how he responds to the role promises to be fascinating but already the omens are good, I have to say.

He is clearly comfortable with the role as right hand man, and he clearly understands exactly who is boss.  Where O’Neill was suited and booted on Friday night, Keane was track-suited and football booted if you get my drift.

When O’Neill wore a smart suit and tie to the rugby game, so Keane wore a leather jacket and jeans.
He may not be the manager and he may still be the focus of attention, but all that seems fine with Roy Keane. How long that lasts is the question on so many Irish lips right now. I’ll get back to you with the answer.

Aussie Boozers Still Winners

THE great Willie John McBride talks fondly of his time as a player when “sex was safe and rugby was dangerous.”  In those days it wasn’t unheard of for the Ireland players to have a pint or two in a Dublin pub the day before a game.

They famously even met the England team in a pub on Baggot Street less than 24 hours before they were all due to do battle together at Lansdowne Road in the early 1970s.

That story will cut little ice with the new Aussie coach Ewen McKenzie, who suspended six players on Monday after he discovered they had taken the aptly named Guinness Series to heart and engaged in a few pints too many before their win over Ireland on Saturday.

The Aussies, by the way, went drinking on Tuesday of last week, four days before the game. They’d never have lasted in the Willie John McBride era.

As for Ireland’s performance against the same Aussies, it doesn’t say much that they fumbled their way to a heavy defeat against a team of drinkers!

The fact that New Zealand are next up at the Aviva on Sunday, seeking to close 2013 with a perfect 100 percent record from 14 games, won’t do much to settle the nerves of the Irish fans or even the players as they adapt to life under new coach Joe Schmidt.

Maybe Joe should go back to the future and bring his players out for a few beers in the build-up to the game. It certainly didn’t do Australia any harm now, did it?

Sideline Views

GAA: We can only hope the new Cork football boss Brian Cuthbert doesn’t suffer from paranoia. No fewer than six senior county players have announced their retirement since he was appointed to the job, and another has left for life as an Aussie Rules player. It’s good so that Cuthbert knows the under-21 and minor scene in Cork inside out. He’s going to need all the good young players he can find next season.

RACING: Hurricane Fly set a new world record of 17 grade one winners at Punchestown on Sunday with the brilliant Ruby Walsh aboard, but we all know the horse will really sit up and take notice at Cheltenham next March. That’s when the action really counts and all the signs are encouraging for an Irish banker at the 2014 festival.

SOCCER: Great to see Roddy Collins back in management with Derry City. Whatever else, the great one will bring a touch of color and excitement to the Brandywell and, like the fans and his new number two Peter Hutton, he will wear his heart on his sleeve. That much is always guaranteed with the Rodmaster!

RUGBY: The Irish government wants the island of Ireland to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and why not – by then the recession should be over, the emigrants will have returned and the border will be gone. And pigs will be flying alongside Ryanair jets!

GAA: Pity the poor footballers of Cratloe in Clare. No sooner had they won the Clare senior title for the first time on Saturday than they had to go out and win a Munster club game on Sunday. I’ll bet that beer tasted good on Sunday night.

HEROES OF THE WEEK

The GAA kicked the weaker hurling counties in the teeth with their decision on Saturday not to change the format of the National League for next season. Carlow are one of the lesser lights that will suffer from the status quo decision, so wasn’t it ironic that their club champions Mount Leinster caused a major shock on Sunday with a provincial club SHC semifinal win over Ballyboden of Dublin. They won’t win the Leinster final against Oulart the Ballagh, but their mere presence there will embarrass the powers that be. And that’s always a good thing.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK

It's not even a contest this week, not even with the Aussies who went on the beer before they hammered Ireland at the Aviva. Our old Twitter connection James McClean was at it again on Sunday when he slaughtered The Belfast Telegraph newspaper and labeled it both sectarian and staffed by “bigots.”  He’s been in trouble on social media more than once before and really needs to throw the phone away and concentrate on what he’s good at – playing football. James needs to leave the words to those who know what they are doing, even the bigots!

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