Roy Keane

Apologies to all those of you waiting for an anti-Roy Keane rant, even those reading this column on the Internet from an Irish address.

The easiest thing in the world right now would be to stand up on this very elegant soapbox that is the Irish Voice and deride the FAI’s decision to allow Martin O’Neill to appoint Mick McCarthy’s nemesis as his right-hand man.

As a self-confessed McCarthyite -- and I make no apologies for it -- I could easily slam John Delaney for backing the man kicked out of Saipan by his international manager McCarthy all those years ago. But I’m
not going to.

I have no interest in slagging off Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill or John Delaney on this page. I have no desire whatsoever to say that Mick McCarthy should have got the job – I would have given it to him by the way – or that Martin O’Neill is not welcome to our job.

Life is too short to be bitter about the past. I have attended too many funerals of late to worry about anything that happened in the past between Roy Keane and anyone else who cares about Irish football, myself included.

A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since Saipan, and that’s where it deserves to say. No one came out of that whole period with any saving grace, and it was a blight on the footballing history of our proud country.

But all that is history now.  All that matters is our national football team and the aspirations of a nation let down so badly by those who play for us and those who managed the same players over the last two years.

When Ireland kick-off the European Championship campaign next September, it won’t matter what happened in Saipan.  Keane will be in the dug-out but he won’t be on the field as Ireland look to qualify for the 2016 finals in France.

His temperamental influence as a player is long gone.  His erratic behavior as a manager with Sunderland and Ipswich is irrelevant right now.

All that matters, all that should matter, is how he can contribute to the future state of Irish football, how he can make the World Cup underachievers into European Championship qualifiers.

It matters not that he derided his new boss John Delaney and the FAI for years. It matters not that he described Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne as cowards after Saipan. It matters not that he treats members of the Irish media with absolute disdain.

It is how Roy Keane reacts to his new role as an understudy to Martin O’Neill that will decide the faith of the FAI’s big gamble.

It is how Keane deals with players inside the dressingroom whom he has previously fallen out with at club level, like Jon Walters and Anthony Stokes, that will make or break this new relationship.

It is how Keane accepts that many of those who now play for his country will never be as good a player as he was that will determine his real worth to the new management set-up.

We are right to worry about Keane’s ability to deal with players. We are right to speculate about the implications of his fractured relationship with the FAI in relation to his new job.

But nobody who loves Irish football – and I do – is entitled to judge Roy Keane’s Ireland future on his Ireland past. He deserves a clean slate when he walks into the dressing room as assistant manager for the first time on Monday.

What he does with that slate will color how we judge him from here on in.  But we cannot tar him with a brush from the past before he even gets to work in the present.

We need have no worries about Martin O’Neill. Like Mick McCarthy, he is a man who knows his way around a dressing room and knows how to command it.

Like Mick, he is a proud Irishman who wears his heart on his sleeve and won’t demand anything of an Irish player that he wouldn’t demand of himself.

For all my loyalty to the McCarthy ticket in this election, I am excited about O’Neill’s appointment. And I hope it works.  I really do.

About two months ago I was on a golf trip to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon with some old friends from home when I got talking to a Benfica fan in a bar.

My new friend was intrigued to know why the Ireland team had sacked former Benfica boss Giovanni Trapattoni, one of the most decorated managers in the history of the world game.

I explained how Trap had performed miracles in getting us to the Euro 2012 finals, but then delivered three performances that stank to high heaven against Croatia, Spain and Italy.

I told him how the World Cup qualification bid had gone terribly wrong against Germany, Sweden and Austria and how the public had lost all belief in the Irish team.

I told him how all any us ever want from our national team manager is a side we can be proud of, and a team that plays with passion and purpose.

We’d lost all that in the last two years under Trapattoni and it was time for change.

Now all I ask of Messrs O’Neill and Keane is a team the Ireland fans can be proud of.  I don’t expect them to win the European Championships or the World Cup – but I do expect them to give us a team that will have a go.

If they do I will gladly praise them, professionally as well as personally.  If they don’t we’ll all do what we always do and demand their heads.

That’s the reality of life as the Ireland manager and his assistant.  So welcome to the jungle Martin and Roy – let the games begin!

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views
SOCCER: Only in Ireland – at a time when the FAI is trying to convince Roy Keane that it is professional now – could the news drop that the Sligo players will have to receive new medals after their incredible extra-time win over Drogheda in Sunday’s FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. The reason is simple – the Sligo players were on the bus home when they realized their medals read “Silgo Rovers.” The supplier and the FAI have since apologized for the spelling error. Just don’t tell Roy!

RUGBY: Ireland starts life under new boss Joe Schmidt in Saturday’s test date with Samoa at the Aviva Stadium, but just as interesting is what happens to Brian O’Driscoll at the start of his final season as an international player. If Ireland are to do anything this season they need O’Driscoll fit, healthy and on the field. His former Leinster boss is sure to recognize that fact at the very least.

SOCCER: One report this week on John Caulfield’s appointment as the new Cork City manager made a big deal of the fact that he’s not from Cork – he was born in America as far as I can remember. But what difference does it make where he’s from. If he’s good enough for the job, then surely it doesn’t matter if John was born on Mars or on Leeside.

GAA: New Cork boss Brian Cuthbert may have a harder job on his hands than he thought at first after the retirements of All-Ireland winners Graham Canty, Paudie Kissane and Noel O’Leary in recent weeks. Those three will take some replacing next season, and Cuthbert will know better than anyone that you just can’t buy that sort of experience.

SOCCER: Pat Fenlon fell on his own sword as Hibs manager last week and that’s to be regretted. The Dubliner is a very good coach and a very decent bloke and he deserves to be back in the game sooner rather than later. Don’t be surprised if he ends up back in the Airtricity League any day now.

CHAMPION jockey Tony McCoy is just two winners away from his 4,000th career win over jumps in one of the most dangerous sports of them all. Racing may still be a minority sport, but his skill and bravery deserves to be recognized by every Irish sports fan.

A BROADSHEET newspaper across the Irish Sea suggested last week that Ireland fans will have a problem with the FAI appointing Ulster Protestant Martin O’Neill as manager. The fools. Firstly, Martin O’Neill is as Catholic as Giovanni Trapattoni. Secondly, it doesn’t matter a dot what religion he is. We’ve long since moved on from such bigotry.