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Republic's focus has not been hit: Keane


Roy Keane

Roy Keane

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Razvan Rat

Razvan Rat

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Roy Keane

As the third attempt to draw Roy Keane into discussion on the FAI's post-Thierry Henry handball deal with Fifa kicked off, Shay Given paused his goal-kicking practice to listen in on the media scrum at the side of the Gannon Park training pitch.

If Given had turned on his television in the aftermath of that painful night in Paris, he'd have heard Keane imploring the Republic to get over it, adding that the finger of blame should be pointed at the goalkeeper and defence.

In the same interview, Keane scoffed at the concept of John Delaney talking about honesty and integrity.

The wonderfully circuitous nature of Irish football means that almost six years on, the key characters involved are now all in the same camp.

Delaney's admission has succeeded in overshadowing the build-up to an historic meeting with England that his association have been seeking for some time.

Keane knew the issue of the £3.6million Fifa 'loan' was going to be on the agenda yesterday when he fulfilled his pitch-side media duties.

He was pretty relaxed about the situation, noting the humour in being asked if Delaney was becoming too much of a distraction when that is the question that has accompanied him throughout his tenure as assistant to Martin O'Neill.

"Isn't he always?" replied Keane. The 43-year-old temporarily adopted a defensive stance when it was put to him that the identity of his current employer might restrict his freedom to speak.

"No," he said. "Who's going to? It's never happened before, has it?

"I was expecting it (questions), of course, but we've got a game on Sunday and that's got to be my focus. There might be a time next week or the week after but all I'm thinking about is the game.

"I'm thinking about the game because it's my job. If you want to ask me in a couple of weeks about Fifa, I might have a comment but at the moment my concerns are about England."

He is certain that the Irish players are in the same bubble.

"There seems to be no distractions this week," he continued. "It's like Big Brother back at the hotel, we don't read what you're talking about or writing about. We're very professional people and we're focused on the job.

"Honestly, if you ask players, most players, they're focused on their own game," Keane elaborated.

"I've been at clubs where distractions about managers, chief executives or a player who's coming or going, it doesn't matter - players can be very much in the zone. I don't know if it's selfish; they've got to get ready for the game on Sunday."

In other circumstances, Keane's views on a joust with England would have box-office potential.

He has, after all, been quite critical of tomorrow's neighbours in his position as an ITV pundit. On the eve of a match with Roy Hodgson's charges, he adopted a more diplomatic tone and swatted away English requests to compare their current team with the collection that flopped in Brazil last summer."

"I've not really thought about it that much," he shot back. "I've not tried to over-analyse the England team. I didn't think they were very good 12 months ago at the World Cup but where does that come into today?"

Everyone is on the same page about the importance of the subsequent Euro 2016 qualifying battle against Scotland, an understanding that is believed to extend to ticket sales with confidence the stadium will be packed for June 13.

With so much focus on the security operation and the associated noise, chatter about what type of match it will be has largely taken minor billing in previews.

Certainly, there will be great incentive for the Republic. Yet Keane reckons that any increased sense of urgency will also be driven by competition for places.

"I think if you ask the Irish lads, they'll want to turn England over," he mused. "They've got pride and they know the players at club level. If they get a good result, maybe it will give them a better chance of starting on Saturday."

Belfast Telegraph