Ipswich Town's manager Roy Keane during the Coca-Cola Championship match at Ninian Park, Cardiff, Wales.
Photo by: PA Wire/PA Photos
Only one man could make an Ipswich Town football club press briefing compulsive viewing for the cream of England’s journalistic crop. Only one man would pack the conference room at Portman Road.
That man is Roy Keane, and last Thursday he was back to his best and back to football as Cork’s most famous sporting son went shooting from the lip on the day he took charge in what one local described as a sleepy little backwater.
Back in the days when even I was young, a man by the name of Bobby Robson ruled the roost in Suffolk, and Ipswich came close to ruling the roost in England and Europe.
The Tractor Boys had a great team then, with players like Muhren and Thyssen, Beattie and Gates, Whymark and Mills, and they did win trophies in the seventies, most notably the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup.
Little or nothing has happened since, however, for Ipswich Town or their supporters, who saw their side slip out of the Premiership around the turn of this century and have been waiting ever since for signs of a recovery, never mind a return.
On Thursday those signs were as ominous as the clouds lifting above Portman Road as the Roy Keane circus rolled into town, and even journalists who were due to play golf in Co. Kildare that day found themselves high tailing it to England courtesy of Aer Lingus (yes, that was me) for a mid-afternoon press conference.
In the space of that hour long show, Keane was frank and forthright, brash and belittling, angry and composed. He was all things to all men in reply to some questions, all things to few men in answer to others.
Initially Keane’s mood was solemn and almost chastened in front of the cameras in a packed press conference room at Portman Road, but once he was away from the lenses he was back to his fighting best when he sat down with the written press.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short and former Irish teammate Tony Cascarino were caught in the Keane crossfire. Keano had a few digs at those who questioned him in the past, and even former United allies Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce got it in the neck when he was asked to describe greatness as a manager.
“Who are the good managers you are talking about?” asked Keane rhetorically when an English journalist highlighted United’s class of ’94 and their impact on the management game.
“Sparky and Brucey haven’t won a trophy yet. Potentially yes, but you have the potential to be a top journalist. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Steve Bruce is having a great season at Wigan, but Steve Bruce is a manager how many years? Sparky did a good job at Blackburn but obviously it is a different challenge now at Manchester City.
“We are all facing difference challenges but until an ex-teammate of mine from the ‘94 team goes on and actually wins something I wouldn’t agree with what you are saying.
“To be a successful manager you have to achieve a bit more than some of those managers have achieved yet.”
It got even better when the Sunday journalists got to sit down with Keane in a smaller and more intimate setting just down the corridor, and he poured forth on everything from Brian Clough to his own personality quirks.
“Me and myself is not good company,” admitted the 37-year-old, whose thoughts and actions have split nations but have always attracted compulsive headlines.
“The fact that this Ipswich job is a complete package, that we have to move here as a family is a big plus for me particularly because I will spend less time in the car now.
“Whether we have a good result or a bad result, a tough training session or an issue with staff on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I will be able to get home and get away from it with the family.
“I won’t be going back to an empty flat. I won’t be spending hours in the car on my own, thinking about it. I will be spending less time in the car, less time traveling by myself and that is only good, because me and myself is not good company.”
These are not the words of a normal football manager. Keane has no problem admitting as much when asked if he is a tormented genius.
“I’ll take that -- as long as the word genius is in there,” laughed Mayfield’s most famous son.
“I know I’m hard work. I know I’m strange. I know that. But I think it’s in a nice way. I think of all the sports people I’ve admired, people like Brian Clough, and they weren’t the norm, shall we say.
“Maybe I’m never the norm but there’s enough people going through the motions of life, doing the same thing every day. I want to be different and I want to be the best manager I can possibly be.
“People talk about what I want to achieve in football and compare it to my past career, but what makes me more proud is my five children.
“I wasn’t a great player. Now I want to be the best I possibly can as a manager. I keep coming back to this word ‘potential’ and anybody can use it, but I think I have the potential to be a top manager. Football is in my blood.”
Love him or hate him, Keane’s return to football can only be a good thing. He has taken on an almighty challenge with Ipswich, where 15 of the squad who won 3-0 at Cardiff on Saturday for him are out of contract in the summer.
He will be able to shape the team his way over the coming months and he will be able to do things his way, but his swift and self perpetuated removal from center stage at Sunderland last December means there are still question marks hanging over Keane’s ability as a manager, and his ability to deal with any chairman who demands a return for his money.
How Keane copes in the coming two years at Ipswich will be intriguing. This time he will have no one to blame but himself if it all goes wrong, if his team find themselves in the deep stuff as they did at Sunderland late last year.
Talking the talk at a press conference as he did so impressively last Thursday is one thing, but the real work is only beginning for one Roy Keane.
His Ipswich Town career will be nothing if not fascinating and it will guarantee a few more headlines before his contract is up.
In the meantime I’m going to try to get back to that game of golf.