An allure of its own


The sight of the new Republic of Ireland management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane patrolling the touchline at tonight’s international friendly game against Latvia will be one of the images of the year in sport. Two of the most intriguing and controversial figures in football over the last 20 years will be watched with as much interest as the players on the pitch who will ultimately decide their managerial fate.

For once, a sport that generates vast amounts of hot air has delivered an unlikely storyline that has an appeal beyond the immediate confines of the football pitch or training ground. If watching the Republic of Ireland team under Martin O’Neill was always going to be fascinating for football supporters, the addition of Keane to the management team has an allure all of its own.

A figure who divided the country over his expulsion from the World Cup in 2002, Keane has never shied away from criticising the FAI or its chief executive John Delaney. Now that he finds himself an employee of the same association, his every comment will be subject to forensic analysis. Keane will appreciate that more than anyone and his handling of the controversies that will arise over the next two years will be the acid test of the new détente.

If the candour and humour shown by both Keane and O’Neill at their press conferences this week are a harbinger of things to come, the public is probably in for as much entertainment off the pitch as on it in the months to come. Surefooted in responding to a variety of issues, including their own inexperience of managing at international level, they gave supporters a realistic assessment of where Ireland stands in the football pecking order.

Both men know that they have a nine month honeymoon before the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 gets under way. That period will be crucial to them in forging a new team and, more importantly, restoring faith in an association that needs to win back public favour after so many own goals in recent years.