Belfast Telegraph

Roy Keane: Fascinating, frank and's the real Keano

By Steven Beacom

There's a theory that Roy Keane doesn't smile much. Wrong. He smiles a lot. Well, he did on Thursday night.

At times he couldn't take the grin off his face. Relaxed, happy and seemingly content with life, the Roy Keane that turned up in Armagh was not quite the one the 600 strong crowd, there to see him, were expecting.

Before he entered the large Fisher Suite in the Armagh City Hotel, the air of anticipation was akin to matchday at Old Trafford - when Roy was captain, not now - with talk about his intimidating nature, presence and cutting remarks.

Fearless, frank and fascinating were all words that were mentioned. When Keane was interviewed about his career at the charity function, we got all of the above, but there was a whole heap of fun too. Keane might be renowned for cracking the whip, but he enjoys whipping up the craic too.

In conversation with event host and Irish League pundit Liam Beckett, Keane's comedy timing would have made Peter Kay proud.

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Roy Keane: Manchester United is in my DNA, Steven Gerrard was good and I wanted to play in an Old Firm game so snubbed Real Madrid for Celtic 

Laughs were long and loud as Keane poked playful fun at old Manchester United team-mates Peter Schmeichel and Gary Neville and jokingly dismissed the chances of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, of whom he is assistant manager, because of the difficulty of their groups at the Euro 2016 finals.

Smiling, he declared:"We'll both do well to win a corner!"

True, he was playing to a warm crowd, the majority of which adored him - two standing ovations and chants of Keano were evidence of that - but still, this was one of those nights when Roy's personality sparkled rather than spiked.

Looking on in admiration was Keane's ex-United team-mate Pat McGibbon. They were together for a short spell at Old Trafford.

When Lurgan native McGibbon was organising a dinner to raise funds and awareness for his Train To Be Smart (TTBS) Juniors charity - a Craigavon-based football coaching project that provides education to young people on the importance of sport for improving physical, mental and emotional health - he knew a big name was needed to sell tickets.

Contacting his old Portadown pal Tom Mohan, now the Republic's under-17 coach, McGibbon asked about getting in touch with Keane.

Within weeks Roy had agreed to help out. Hard as nails he may be, but the United great has a softer side and when learning about how Pat's brother Philip had taken his own life in 1993, he made himself available. And in doing so, McGibbon's big night turned into a major success.

Keane did not demand a fee, offered a donation to the charity and put the guests in such a fine mood that over £6,000 was made in an auction of football memorabilia.

No subject was off limits as Beckett gently probed one of the world's most famous footballers. Keane began by talking about growing up in sports crazy Cork.

He said: "Maybe even as a young kid I took sport too seriously.

"From eight years of age I was very driven which helped me a lot later in my career, but really when you are eight, nine, 10 years of age you should be trying to enjoy the game. At that age I was all about winning."

He waxed lyrical about good times at Nottingham Forest and his strong relationship with Brian Clough, even after the iconic boss punched him in the chest.

Keane enjoyed telling the story about how he ended up at United, infuriating Kenny Dalglish in the process after the Scot thought the young midfielder was going to move to Blackburn.

And there was the eye opening 'I didn't lose a wink's sleep over it' in reference to leaving the Republic of Ireland's 2002 World Cup squad after a bust-up with then manager Mick McCarthy.

It was Keane's comments on United, though, that brought pin drop silence to the room as the attentive audience hung on his every word. Keane surprised them when he said his vast collection of medals mattered little to him and how becoming captain of the global sporting institution was 'no big deal'.

There was modesty and honesty in equal measure from the 44-year-old.

When Keane fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson and left United in 2005 it sent shockwaves around European football. Here's Roy's take on his controversial exit and an acceptance that instead of signing for Celtic, he should have retired.

"Leaving United it's no sob story. It's just part of life. You come to the end of working with somebody. I definitely think United treated me badly at the end because I didn't do anything wrong," he said.

"When I left United that day my love for the game changed a bit. I was badly hurting.

"When I went home that day I probably should have retired."

Keane spoke about interest from Everton and an 18 month contract offer from Spanish giants Real Madrid. With injuries an increasing problem, he admitted to self doubt about going to the Bernabeu and opted to join his boyhood favourites Celtic.

"What I wanted to do was play against Rangers. I fancied that one game," he said before outlining his exhausting journey from Manchester to Edinburgh on a plane and then on to Glasgow by car for training.

With bones creaking it was never going to be a long term thing with Keane quitting the game in 2006, aged 34, six months into his stay at Parkhead.

He would go on to manage Sunderland and Ipswich and says he is 'open minded' about returning to club duty in the future.

As for his much discussed feelings towards the most revered manager of them all, Ferguson, Keane stated: "People think I'm just going to criticise him but I had 12 and a half years with Alex Ferguson and it was fantastic. We had brilliant times together.

"Manchester United suited my DNA. It was everything that I wished for. I loved the pressure, the big games, the supporters.

"It only went wrong at the end."

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