|Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane at the Aviva Satadium in Dublin on Monday.|
Some of this is almost too good to be true – if it is indeed true as we approach the end of week one in the life of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and the latest circus to attach itself to the Irish football team.
On Monday afternoon, Messrs Keane and O’Neill attached themselves to John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, for a photocall at the Aviva Stadium.
The photo was issued to the media on the basis that the two boys were getting down to business by inspecting Ireland’s home ground.
They were there purely to raise awareness for Friday night’s game against Latvia and sell some tickets for an association that still owes a big fortune of debt on the same stadium and will struggle to pay it off.
That Keane and Delaney were pictured together –with O’Neill in between them just in case – shows just how far the FAI is prepared to go to try and raise profile and cash. These two hate each other and their history is checkered, as I am sure Keane’s press conference on Wednesday, alas after our deadline, will verify.
That photo was almost too good to be true but it was true. The first reports from the initial training session with O’Neill, Keane and the Irish players now under their charge, were definitely too good to be true.
My man in Malahide – Owen Cowzer of the Irish Sun as it happens – was happy to confirm that players and management were in place on the training ground well ahead of schedule.
He was also happy to report, admitting it was unconfirmed and mere rumor at that stage, that Keane had put down the cones for the coaching session to follow.
I almost choked on my porridge when I read that text, the mere notion of a footballing God like Roy Keane laying out cones for Robbie Keane, etc. adding mirth to my breakfast.
We still haven’t confirmed whether or not Roy did put down the cones, the sort of thing people slagged Steve Staunton off for when he got the Ireland job. But the fact that he was even rumored to have done so shows you just how bizarre this new life with the Irish team is.
It also adds to the notion suggested on Twitter a few weeks ago that Roy Keane has now become the very man he spent years slagging off in the Jack Charlton set-up – Maurice Setters.
Setters was Jack’s number two but regarded with little more than disdain by Keane, so much so that the pair squared up to each other on the training ground in Orlando when Jack went off to look at Mexico play before the 1994 World Cup.
How ironic then that Keane is now the Maurice Setters of the new regime – though I doubt any of his players will make that suggestion to his face.
All of this nonsense of course is a mere sideshow to the real job ahead of Keane and his new mentor, O’Neill. They play Latvia on Friday and Poland on Tuesday and both games will give them – and us – an idea about the players at their disposal and the tactics they will employ in the future.
And another sideshow on Saturday, a throwaway remark by the match commentator on BBC’s Match of the Day show, shows just how difficult the job in hand is going to be for our new dream team.
Keane was caught on camera at Villa Park as Aston Villa defeated Cardiff in the Premier League, his first scouting mission to look at Irish players in his role as O’Neill’s assistant.
“He must be the most talked about assistant manager in football history,” said the commentator, and he made a good point considering all the column inches devoted to O’Neill’s choice in recent days.
The slight problem for Keane at Villa Park was the fact that only one Irish player played in the game. And Ciaran Clark picked up an injury in the match that immediately ruled him out of the friendlies against Latvia and Poland.
Maybe Keane was there to talk to Shay Given, Villa’s unwanted ‘keeper, about his offer to return to the international fold.
Or maybe he will quickly come to the conclusion that Irish players are no longer guaranteed games in the biggest Premier League clashes.
Keane will certainly have had a reminder of that fact on Sunday when he rolled up to his Old Trafford stomping ground for Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in the top of the table clash.
Not one Irish player started that game. Not one Irish player featured on the bench for either United or Arsenal in the biggest Premier League fixture of the weekend, arguably the biggest game in Europe last week.
And that’s the real problem facing O’Neill and Keane in the nine months or so before the European Championship qualifiers kick off next September.
They will discover very quickly this week that they are working with very limited resources. It is how they maximise their resources and get the very best out of those players that will determine their success over the next two years.
They need everyone available to Ireland to play for Ireland, so O’Neill’s hint that he is open to the idea of a return for Stephen Ireland among others is to be welcomed.
And they will need to trawl the English leagues for top class players whose parents may qualify them to play for the boys in green.
As O’Neill said the other day, the buck stops with qualification by Ireland for the extended European Championships to held in France in 2016. That is all matters now for O’Neill, Keane and the players working with them in Malahide as we speak.
Who puts down the cones on the training ground is irrelevant really. But is funny to think that Roy is now Stan – or Maurice Setters!
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
GAA: Bit of a hullabaloo down in Tipperary where the great Hayes Hotel is in danger of going out of business thanks to Ireland’s economic recession and a simple lack of custom. One local politician believes the GAA should buy the hotel and turn it into a museum, honoring the fact that it is the birthplace of our national games. Good idea. And while they’re at it, they could buy every pub in the country that ever hosted a GAA meeting. That’ll kick-start the economy fairly quickly!
SOCCER: We’re not involved in the World Cup playoffs this weekend, but we should keep an eye of them. Portugal against Sweden will be a cracker, but the best games of all could be the two matches between Ukraine and France. I’ll be shouting for the Ukranians. The French don’t deserve another World Cup appearance after cheating their way to the last one.
RACING: Nice touch by JP McManus who bought a round for every punter at Towcester when AP McCoy rode his 400th winner on Thursday. Not sure if even he could afford the same thing had AP passed the 400 winners mark in front of the massive crowds at the Cheltenham festival, however.
HURLING: Kieran McGeeney’s new role with the Tipperary team is to work on the mental side of their game. Good job too. As an Armagh man I doubt he knows much about the skills side of hurling.
HERO OF THE WEEK
IRISH rugby badly needs some new talent to come through the ranks as the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell approach the end of their careers. We particularly need young forwards, so Jack McGrath’s very impressive debut at prop against Samoa on Saturday is to be welcomed. He looks the real deal and is going to put real pressure on Cian Healy with Leinster and Ireland in the coming months which can only be good news for all concerned – bar Healy of course.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
IT was sad, as he said himself, that Owen Coyle had to rubbish stories from some quarters last weekend that he left James McClean out of the Wigan team to play Yeovil in a row over Remembrance Sunday poppies. McClean did get into trouble on this issue at Sunderland last season, but Coyle says his omission was purely down to injury and we should believe him.