Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill gets defensive after Roy Keane outburst

By Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill has leapt to the defence of assistant Roy Keane after he found himself at the centre of another storm.

The outspoken 43-year-old, who hit the headlines last week after an alleged incident at the Republic of Ireland's team hotel, took a scatter-gun approach when he spoke to the media on Sunday.

Keane criticised Everton for their handling of injuries to Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, urged teenage Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish to make up his mind over which country he wants to represent and rounded on reporters for suggesting he has become a distraction.

The comments prompted a swift and withering response from Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, who accused him of saying "some stupid things sometimes".

However, manager O'Neill, who asked the younger man to join him in the Republic set-up following his appointment in November last year, insists he has no regrets about doing so despite the attention Keane attracts with his pursuit by Celtic, his updated autobiography and the events of the last few days having dominated the agenda in recent months.

The former Northern Ireland captain said: "Every single time that you mention Roy, it either seems to be a distraction or another issue. Let me tell you straight: I'm delighted to have him.

"I chose in the first place to bring him in here, he's been terrific. He has been terrific around the lads. He has been everything that I wanted him to be.

"Some things have materialised that actually aren't of his doing to begin with, so I haven't a problem.

"He's got a mind of his own, he can say what he wants. Again, unless it's absolutely and utterly in contradiction with what I am saying to you, then I do not have a problem with it. It is not an issue."

O'Neill's defence was backed wholeheartedly by defender John O'Shea, a former Manchester United team-mate of Keane.

O'Shea said: "It's brilliant having him on board. Roy's experience playing at such a high level, just his passion for the job - those factors are very helpful."

Keane insisted on Sunday that the publicity surrounding him had not been a distraction in the build-up to the Euro 2016 qualifier in Glasgow, which the Republic lost 1-0, and O'Shea agreed.

He said: "It doesn't bother us one bit. We don't see it either way. It's more yourselves that really enjoy those facts. We just have our jobs to do on the pitch.

"Ultimately we train, everything is prepared for us and it's up to us to do the job on the pitch."

O'Neill will hope the focus will now return to exactly that, with a much-changed side due to face the United States at the Aviva Stadium this evening in a friendly which will bring an end to the Republic's 2014 fixtures.

Derby full-back Cyrus Christie and Ipswich striker David McGoldrick will both be handed first senior caps, but there will be no place for 19-year-old Grealish as he continues to keep his options open with England also on his trail.

Keane's frustration with that situation may be clear, but O'Neill has been adamant from the start that he would not involve himself in a lengthy courtship.

He said: "I've spoken to Jack Grealish's father. I spoke to the two of them and Jack's father and Jack were not in any great hurry at that particular time to make their minds up. I left it entirely up to them.

"Now at the end of it all, if Jack pulls out of the Under-21s and wants to concentrate on his club football, good luck to him.

"I can understand, Roy is not going to be running around there asking Jack Grealish's father every single day, 'has he made his mind up?'. Let them decide themselves.

"It would be nice to have someone like that on board."

Belfast Telegraph

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