Martin O'Neill has 'total confidence' in Roy Keane after Arter row
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill says he has 'total confidence' in Roy Keane after conceding that a row between his assistant manager and Harry Arter is a factor in the player's decision to take a break from international football.
The pair's summer clash was cited as one of the reasons for the Cardiff loanee's decision to refuse a call for the Republic's Nations League opener with Wales on Thursday.
O'Neill does not agree with Arter's action and pointed out that Jon Walters has turned up even though he also had an altercation with Keane.
The 66-year-old from Kilrea also asserted that Declan Rice's decision to consider his Republic future is nothing to do with the Arter episode.
When asked if the fall-out with Arter raised questions about Keane's role, O'Neill backed his No.2 - which suggests a return for the player under this regime is a long shot.
"I have got total confidence in Roy," said O'Neill. "Roy Keane wants the best for the Republic of Ireland, as I do. We managed to get to the Euros and the World Cup play-offs and Roy has been a great part of that.
"I wasn't there during the discussion (row) but I've heard the sides of the story. Jon Walters is coming in. I think you have to consider that.
“I took Roy on because I wanted him to display the things that he has shown over the five years. I am not an apologist for him — he can speak for himself.”
O’Neill refused to confirm if Arter and Keane had spoken over the summer, and expressed the wish that matters could be resolved privately rather than playing out in the public domain.
However, he added that: “I’ve got 26 players here that want to play. They really want to play for the Republic of Ireland. That’s important. If you want to play you can’t be picking and choosing games.”
While admitting Keane played a part in Arter’s absence, O’Neill was quick to play down the clash involving the pair and Walters, who is due to meet up with the squad tonight.
The former Nottingham Forest midfielder said: “I’m the manager. I respect his decision. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I’ve respected it.
“I did tell Harry that having a fall-out with management, I was the right person to talk to — I had about 15 years of it. I used to lose all arguments with (Forest boss) Mr (Brian) Clough, but I ended up winning two European Cups.”
He added with a smile: “I know it’s the old cliched phrase to say these things, but these things happen.
“I have been involved almost five years here and I’ve had one or two scrapes with one or two players myself who are bigger and stronger than me.
“I was looking round for a little bit of help from my backroom staff and it wasn’t forthcoming. That’s when you realise how unpopular you are.”
O’Neill added: “In my time as a manager, I think I’ve succeeded in forming a pretty vibrant group who for the vast majority of players actually want to play for the team, want to play for each other and naturally want to play for themselves. There are exceptions.”
The Republic boss is unhappy with reports claiming Rice got caught up in the row.
“I don’t know where you got the line that the young lad interfered in the discussion. That is totally and utterly untrue,” said O’Neill.
“There isn’t an ounce of truth in it. I’m actually pleased that you have asked me the question, it gives me the chance to knock it on the head.
“Rice is a totally different situation to Harry Arter. I would dearly like young Rice to play for us and I’m giving him a bit of time. Rice was talked to by England and I don’t see how that couldn’t affect a young kid born in that country.
“It’s a totally different issue. Rice would have been pretty well certain to start in midfield for us (v Wales), I don’t think Harry was a certainty.”
The West Ham youngster was strongly criticised for taking time to think about his Irish future and James McClean weighed in on the debate by appearing to agree with Kevin Kilbane’s view that a player that is deliberating should not be picked.
However, O’Neill said that McClean had contacted Rice to tell him that he wanted him to be a part of the Republic’s future.
“James has spoken to Declan Rice and James is very strongly in favour of Declan coming here and being welcome,” he said. “I was speaking to James and few of the lads and they are all of the same opinion.”