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'His brother might get married again another time' - Roy Keane was in fine form at Ireland press conference

By Daniel McDonnell

Fifteen years on from Saipan, Roy Keane is at a training camp on an island.

It's Fota Island, to be precise. And his mood is bright and breezy. The pitch looks good and he's close to home, enjoying the calm before the storm of this summer gathering.

A year ago, Ireland enjoyed a period of unexpected sunshine in Cork as part of the preparations for a successful European Championships.

Most of the star names are absent this week, but Keane hopes it will be a case of history repeating as Ireland begin the lengthy build-up to the June 11 World Cup qualifier with Austria.

First, there's a trip to New York this week for a friendly with Mexico (June 1) and then a Dublin date with Uruguay (June 4).

Martin O'Neill's squad will arrive in staggered intervals, with the Championship players working on their fitness this week and forming the bulk of the US party, although James McClean has volunteered to join them. Goalkeepers Darren Randolph and Colin Doyle will also travel Stateside.

The rest of the Premier League squad members are due to link up when that trip ends, although Keane has confirmed that James McCarthy has gone on a summer break to allow him to recuperate from a turbulent campaign plagued by injury and club v country conflict, with all parties agreeing it was the wisest course of action.

McClean's determination to go the US is typical of his attitude, and there's an easy contrast between his desire and the issues in the Austrian camp with their manager Marcel Koller irked at Andreas Ulmer skipping the Dublin date because of his wedding.

Burnley defender Kevin Long is missing his brother's wedding to accept a first Irish call and Keane approves.

"But it's not his wedding, is it?" he quips. "It shouldn't be (an issue). I missed my sister's wedding. She was getting married and I had a friendly with Man Utd. You miss these occasions - it's par for the course. And his brother might get married again another time."

The delivery is perfect. There is praise for McClean, especially for his commitment to his country, but Keane still feels the Derry man can improve.

After all, he spent a good portion of this season on the bench at West Brom, a fate shared by quite a few of Ireland's top-flight contingent.

"We're only in control of what we're in control of, and that's when they turn up for us," shrugs Keane. "And James has never let us down.

What goes on at club level, listen, a lot of our lads - James is not the only one - don't get enough regular games. But we don't dip into the clubs' business. It's no concern of ours.

"James has matured nicely over the last year or two. He's started to add a few important goals to his game for Ireland. But James McClean still has a long way to go. There's plenty of (room for) improvement there.

"He's very passionate about playing for Ireland and very enthusiastic but we also hope that James will improve as a player. And he'll improve a lot more when he's playing regularly in the Premiership. He's probably not quite at that stage yet."

The proliferation of players in that boat is a talking point, but Keane was not in the mood to dwell on it.

"It's not the top of my concern," he said. "In an ideal world you want lads playing at the highest level every week but we're not in control of that. I could talk all day to you about the few concerns you might have but we're not in control of that.

"I hope we don't spend the next two weeks talking about lads who are not here, which we seem to normally do when there's any sort of media commitments. Let's look at the lads who are here, who are enthusiastic and want to play."

Daryl Murphy is in that category, fresh from a promotion-winning season at Newcastle, although he was largely used as an impact sub and there are doubts about his future at the club.

Keane has always rated the 34-year-old and thinks he has not received enough credit for his Irish contributions.

"You look at our results when Murf has played, they have been pretty decent," he says. "I'm sure you lads do that all the time, you don't just sit around doing nothing," he added, with a grin to accompany a playful jab.

"He's had one or two injury problems. A lot of it has been a calf problem, which would be a concern, but he's here. And if he plays up front (v Austria) he won't let us down."

Shane Long's unavailability has made Murphy a real contender, even if Jon Walters is the favourite to lead the line. Ireland's goalscoring problems have been well documented and Keane did not fudge the issue; O'Neill's men fired a blank in the March double header with Wales and Iceland.

"Yeah, of course you're disappointed but whatever about us scoring three or four goals a game - because going back over the last 20 or 30 years Ireland have never done that - you're just looking for a little bit more creativity and to create a few more chances, because otherwise you're going to make it very hard for yourselves," he says.

But where we are in the group, for a team that has all these concerns, we're still doing okay.

The difficult tests with Mexico and Uruguay are unlikely to function as confidence boosters in that department.

"I don't think we could have picked tougher friendlies, in terms of the quality of the teams and how much possession we're going to get," says Keane. "But then we've the full week to prepare for the Austria game so there'll be no excuses."

They might even work on putting the ball in the net.

"You do that all the time," says Keane. "You have to remind players when you have games in training and have 8 v 8 or 9 v 9 with keepers.

"Then at the end of training they say 'Can I do a bit of finishing?' And you say, 'What do you think the game was for?' That's what training is about. You've not had a shot in the game and now you want to do a bit of finishing with nobody near you?"

Clearly, the passing of time has not lowered his training standards.

Irish Independent

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