Roy Keane urges Ireland to ‘put France under pressure’

Assistant manager galvanises side to take care of unfinished business against hosts

Roy Keane: “As Jack said years ago, ‘put ‘em under pressure’. I’m sure there’s a song about that, you know.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho er

Roy Keane: “As Jack said years ago, ‘put ‘em under pressure’. I’m sure there’s a song about that, you know.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho er

 

Ireland is, at heart, a village, and when every so often the national football team features in a match of heightened, concentrated theatre, that village comes to a standstill.

So it will be on Sunday.

Lyon becomes the unofficial Irish capital for one afternoon.

The Republic team flew 300 miles south on Friday evening. Hopefully the altitude gave the players a chance to organise their minds after the happy tumult of Wednesday night in Lille. After Robbie Brady’s goal, their world went into overdrive. Time sped up.

“It was quite late when we were travelling back but nobody seemed to be asleep back home. The phones were just constantly going with videos and message, people out, people watching the game out on the streets. It was brilliant,” said Daryl Murphy yesterday.

The players have been caught between the celebratory mood in Ireland and the need to immediately begin preparation for the game against France, which becomes the biggest game of their lives.

Training. Tired bodies. Phone calls. Hasty travel plans. Tickets. Cyrotherapy chambers. “Minus 150 I think,” says Murphy of that particular treat.

Stars and fans

There is a general lament that the modern game has created a chasm between football stars and their fans.

But who could argue that of the Irish team after watching Brady sprint straight over to embrace his girlfriend and brother in the crowd on Wednesday? Who could argue that the psychic link between the wall of supporters and the players is not just as strong as ever? That Ireland has been destined to face France in this knock-out match means that only the very lucky few will get to witness whatever unfolds in the Stade de Lyon.

The Irish have been allocated less than 4,000 tickets, meaning it will be a home match for France in terms of soil and crowd domination.

“It does seem unfair, yeah, for the supporters,” shrugged Roy Keane.

“The capacity is 58,000 – it does seem a bit lopsided. You’d expect the home nation to have gotten an extra few but that’s a lot more. It’s unfair, particularly the way they’ve travelled and what they’ve brought to the tournament. I was thinking we’d have maybe 15 or 20,000 in the stadium so, yeah, a bit unfair, but we can’t change it.”

It is, of course, fitting that Keane, whose persona at times seemed to loom over the Irish football team, is involved in this latest chapter. Time does funny things; the Keane of Ireland 2016 is an encourager and a mischievous presence with a helpless ability for one-liners (“I’m not French,” he shrugged in a manner which was entirely French when told of the enduring Gallic obsession with the Henry handball. “You’re aware of that, aren’t you.”).

Cavalier attitude

Still, we are reaching the key point of Keane’s enduring theme about the Ireland national team. Let’s not be happy with good enough. France are, on paper, heavy favourites to win this game. Their cast of players, from Pogba to Payet, need no embellishment.

It would be stupid to refer to a possible defeat to Ireland as a calamity for France given what the country has dealt with over the past year. But it would be a deep blow to national self-esteem and happiness.

They have betrayed a cavalier attitude to defensive diligence during periods of their first round games and, as hosts and favourites, they are playing under a tremendous burden of expectation.

“But can we take advantage of that somehow?” asks Keane. “Yeah. That’s by getting a foothold in the game. As Jack said years ago, ‘put ‘em under pressure’. I’m sure there’s a song about that, you know. Put them under pressure. You do that by getting a foothold, tackling, by getting the ball into the box, by getting midfield runners, by your decision making, by being physical, having good energy levels.

“All that goes into the mix and the big challenge for us is that while we did really well against Sweden, we couldn’t quite get those levels up against Belgium. They were back up against Italy: can we get them back for France? That’s the challenge for any sportsperson. To keep those standards up. Fingers crossed whatever the starting XI will be, they can rise to the occasion, put in a good performance.”

Ireland expects

That’s the national hope. As ever, it will come down to whether an exceptionally tight and proud Irish collective can produce something once-off against a team glittering with several of the most prized jewels in the football world.

Already, this generation of Irish footballers have staked their claim as a special bunch.

They have captured the imagination of the country and have tapped into the giddiness which took hold in 1988, in 1990, in 1994; before half of them were born. How far could they go?

“It’s not one of those things you think about straight away – maybe in 10 or 15 years time when we’re retired, you can look back and it will all sink in,” said Shane Long. “But there is still a long way to go.”

Or else there is just one more game.

Cold logic dictates that Didier Deschamps’ young team will brush aside the Irish and, if France score early, it could be a taxing afternoon in the sunshine. That’s the logical view.

Defying logic with an irresistible surge has been Ireland’s calling card. To Lyon, then, and 90 minutes in which to show the French that the Irish know about revolutions too.

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