Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane: smiles now, but fireworks are bound to follow

Double act: the Republic's Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane last night
Double act: the Republic's Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane last night

Get the popcorn out, this is going to be worth watching. The Republic have, somehow, thought it wise to employ Roy Keane as the assistant to Martin O'Neill as the head coach of the national team.

This is the same Keane who fell out spectacularly with the FAI after flouncing out of the warm-up camp in Saipan before the 2002 World Cup, having complained about the training facilities and Mick McCarthy's coaching, among other things. Although it was more than 11 years ago, the appointment of Keane as O'Neill's assistant has brought up the whole unedifying, divisive incident again.

Back in 2002, a man named John Delaney was the FAI treasurer and he had the unenviable job of co-ordinating matters in Dublin while the proverbial was hitting the fan in Micronesia. Guess what? He is now chief executive, and Keane will now answer to him.

Delaney said yesterday that he hoped to unveil Keane and O'Neill formally on Saturday and that when he spoke to the former Manchester United man last week there were "no problems at all".

He added: "There should be a line drawn in the sand in terms of Saipan and what happened. We were all younger people back then. I think we all say things in different parts of our life. I'm sure you or I have said things that we regret.

"But anything that would have been said by Roy or I to each other or about each other is irrelevant, it's irrelevant."

Quite a turnaround. Because only last year Keane, in one of his annual addresses in the Republic that he gives in aid of his chosen charity, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, once again returned to the subject of Saipan. Delaney's response was terse: "He should get over it, for his own sake. It's just a sideshow for me."

Keane was with O'Neill as pundits on ITV's Champions League coverage last night and he said: "I am honoured that Martin has asked me. I look forward to working with the players and, hopefully, getting to the Euros."

O'Neill then described the partnership as "I am the bad cop and he is the bad, bad cop".

Make no mistake, the appointment of O'Neill is great news; a manager of a higher calibre than the Republic could have hoped for if Denis O'Brien, the Irish telecommunications billionaire, didn't partly foot the wage bill, as he also did with Italian veteran Giovanni Trappatoni, the former head coach.

But Keane? Really? Few can deny his passion for the game and his country – after all, the intentions behind his Saipan hissy-fit were honourable, even if the execution divided the country.

And he did have a what you'd call a modicum of success as Sunderland manager, if not with Ipswich Town.

But whether he can put his long-standing grievances aside – such as his perception that the FAI is a Dublin-based Delaney dynasty (John's father Joe was in the corridors of power when Keane was a kid) that cares little for men from Cork, as he is – is another matter entirely.

One thing's for sure, though – the next few years will be unmissable.

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