Roy Keane has never been one for sentimentality, so when it came to Martin O’Neill breaking bad news to those unfortunate to miss out on the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad on Tuesday evening, the assistant manager typically took it all in his stride.
While saying it was difficult for O’Neill to tell, in particular, the Millwall goalkeeper David Forde he would not be travelling to France, Keane admitted he found the decision-making procedure a satisfying experience. Overall he appears relaxed, stating on more than one occasion that his priority is to enjoy the tournament. Now the travelling party has been finalised, there was a sense that preparations moved up a level on Wednesday – but he could still joke about walking out of the team’s base in Versailles if the facilities are not up to scratch.
“I found the process enjoyable,” Keane said of whittling down the squad. “Not leaving lads out, obviously, but looking at the last few months and general chit-chat about who brings what to the party. It was good. It’s fallen into place but telling good lads like Fordey they did not make it was difficult, especially when they were leaving the hotel.
“I kind of like that about sport – it is really cruel but it was up to them to make sure they were in the 23. The lads who missed out just haven’t played enough games. It’s not that they were bad lads or bad players, they just lacked that bit of first-team action. The manager has been good with a lot of players – not throwing caps out willy-nilly but looking after certain players. Martin is a loyal man and loyalty comes into it for lads who were involved in the campaign.”
Ireland travel to France next Wednesday and thus far preparations have gone well, aside from the surprise friendly defeat by Belarus on Tuesday. Keane and O’Neill were pleased after visiting the training facility and supplies have already been sent to their hotel in France.
“I’ll obviously leave, won’t I,” Keane joked when asked about his reaction if all was not up to scratch. “I’m never looking for perfection. I’m looking for progress and there has been massive progress over the last year or two.
“To be fair to the FAI and the people in the background, there have been huge improvements. Again, my mindset is to go over and enjoy it. We all have the same aim to do as well as we can. We’ll be ready.”
The availability of James McCarthy and Robbie Keane for their opening Euro 2016 game against Sweden on 13 June remains uncertain, though. The Everton midfielder took a full part in training for the first time on Wednesday but Robbie Keane continued to rest his left calf.
“The medical staff think they will be ready in a week or two,” the assistant manager added. “We have time to play with. It’s not ideal but James has played decent football and Robbie has a positive frame of mind. His injury record is pretty good and you want him around the place. Not for sympathy, you want him around the group.”
Keane is equally prepared for a late curveball, similar to Harry Arter’s withdrawal because of a thigh injury on Monday, but admits some things are out of the coaching staff’s hands.
“We can only worry about the things we are in control of. The length of training; the type of sessions we do; the balance with the players in terms of giving them time off.”
That is a prescient point. Keiren Westwood was reflecting yesterday on Ireland’s doomed 2012 campaign under Giovanni Trapattoni, saying “the lads were fucking wrecked” because of a four-week buildup. Westwood also knew he would be on the bench because Trapattoni announced Shay Given as his undisputed No1 more than a week before the tournament started.
On this occasion the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper is battling with Given and Darren Randolph – and not even O’Neill appears sure of who will play against Sweden.
One of the few departments that has a clear hierarchy is in attack, where Shane Long will be the undoubted first choice. Daryl Murphy was a mildly surprising inclusion in the squad – after 21 appearances, he has yet to score – but Keane believes the Ipswich Town striker can still offer plenty to the team. “You’re hoping and praying he knocks one in but we appreciate the other stuff he does for us – his work rate, he tires people out. But without skipping the chase, Murph could do with a goal.”
Murphy is likely to be used from the bench in France, perhaps to join Long in attack, depending on the circumstances of the games.
“Without being disrespectful, Murph is probably at the opposite end to where Shane is,” Keane said. “Shane is thinking every time he gets on the pitch he fancies his chances of scoring. He is peaking. The few goals he has gotten in the past few months have given him a confidence boost.
“He might see with Robbie coming to an end that he is going to be the main man. He can play different roles – he can play with two up front but he can also go up there on his own. He’s in good form, so he’s probably playing for a new contract or something, too.”
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