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Delaney: Keane's past 'irrelevant'

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney has insisted Roy Keane's turbulent past is irrelevant to his impending return to the international stage.

In confirming Martin O'Neill's imminent appointment as Ireland manager and with it, Keane's installation as his number two more than a decade after he made an infamous exit from the 2002 World Cup finals in the Far East, Delaney was adamant those events in Saipan have nothing to do with the future of Irish football.

Speaking on Newstalk Radio, Delaney described talks with the former Manchester United skipper last week as "absolutely brilliant" and added: "It's years ago, 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.

"Irish football and our country is bigger than anything."

Keane famously questioned Ireland's preparations for the tournament in a bust-up which led to a stand-off between himself and then manager Mick McCarthy, and despite a major diplomatic exercise, their differences could not be bridged and Ireland's captain played no part in the tournament.

However, his rehabilitation appears to be complete following his decision to accept O'Neill's overtures to assist him after the Ulsterman was approached over the vacancy left by Giovanni Trapattoni in September.

Delaney later told Sky Sports News: "We met last week. I was very taken by him. He wants to come. He's been a great footballer.

"Martin wants him to be his assistant. He was Martin's choice. I come from a school where the manager chooses his backroom team.

"People need to draw a line in the sand. It's gone. Now is the time to stop talking about it."

Former Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager O'Neill has taken his time to make up his mind with the FAI having identified him as its primary target within days of the Italian's exit.

Delaney confirmed that talks are at an advanced stage and that he hopes to be able to unveil the new management team on Saturday with 61-year-old O'Neill having turned down a series of chances to work in the Barclays Premier League once again to resume his career at international level.

He said: "It's all but done. Everything is agreed. It's just a case of signatures. I think you can take it that Martin O'Neill will be the Republic of Ireland manager and that Roy Keane will be his assistant.

"The idea is to have Martin O'Neill here on Saturday and confirm him as our new manager.

"Martin thought about it for a period of time. He has turned down jobs in the premiership to take this job.

"I hope this time around with this appointment, once it's confirmed officially next Saturday, that people will get behind this appointment, because it's our country.

"We want our country to achieve, we want our country to qualify for major tournaments, we want to let bygones be bygones, we want to work together."

Former Northern Ireland international O'Neill could find himself thrust into the ongoing controversy over players from the North opting to play for Ireland rather than the country of their birth, as they are entitled to do, with Darron Gibson and James McClean among those who have chosen to do so.

Delaney said: "I think the players make up their own minds. James McClean, Darron Gibson play for the Republic because of their different backgrounds, and they want to play for the Republic as opposed to Northern Ireland."

Should O'Neill and Keane be confirmed in their posts at the weekend, they will be in position to prepare the players for friendlies against Latvia in Dublin and Poland in Poznan later this month.

The squad is due to meet up in time for training in Malahide on Monday ahead of the first game against the Latvians at the Aviva Stadium next Friday evening.

But their main focus will be on preparing the players for the resumption of competitive action in September next year, when the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign is due to get under way.

Ireland, of course, qualified for the Euro 2012 finals under Trapattoni via the play-offs having narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa via a similar route.

However, they finished a distant fourth behind Germany, Sweden and Austria in their Group C campaign for next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil, and that ultimately cost the 74-year-old Italian his job as successive defeats by the Swedes and the Austrians left them facing an impossible task.

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