McCarthy still not sure of Keane's participation

 

Mick McCarthy survived another crisis yesterday, if only just. Roy Keane was cleared to join the travelling party for Saturday's World Cup confrontation with the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

Its still far from certain, however, if McCarthy will be able to bank on the leadership qualities of the Manchester United player who aggravated a back injury in last Saturday's game against West Ham.

He may take part in a light training session when the squad arrives in Amsterdam today, but the indications are that a decision on his fitness is likely to be delayed until as late as possible.

It all contrasted sharply with earlier assessments that, in spite of going into hospital on Monday for a scan of the injury, Keane would almost certainly be available to captain the team.

"In fact, I could barely walk on Sunday and Monday and, at that stage, I didn't think I had any chance of playing in the World Cup match," said Keane.

"If you had asked me on Sunday and Monday what hope I had of playing against the Dutch I would have answered that there was no chance.

"Maybe it has been caused by a change of cars, a change of beds or our new training ground when the surface is very heavy.

"There has since been some improvement, but, after four days rest, it's now approaching decision time," said Keane. "I owe it to the manager and to the players to let them know what the position is."

In fact Keane trained yesterday, joining in a game without ever working up to full pace. Yet, it was reassuring enough to convince him that he still has a chance of making the deadline.

"I didn't do too much, but, at the moment, it feels okay. I'll be travelling in the morning," he added.

If determination is the deciding factor, there is every reason to hope that Ireland's highest profile player will be available to fire up his colleagues and, perhaps, spread a little apprehension among the Dutch team.

"Its a huge game for everybody - not least me," he said. "I look forward to playing in Europe with Manchester United each year, but Ireland haven't made it into the finals of a championship since the World Cup in 1994.

"We've since lost two play-offs and, unless you're winning games, you drop in the seedings.

"It's all a vicious circle, but I genuinely believe we can make a fresh start now by getting a good result against Holland.

"We've talked a lot in recent years about bad luck and getting the younger players through, but I think it's now time we started to produce."

On his own contribution, he said: "I don't think I have performed for Ireland for the last six years, at least not on a consistent level. I try to figure out the reasons, but I'm still not sure.

"I was happy with my performances in the 1994 World Cup finals, but maybe that was because the squad was together for five or six weeks before they started. I'm my own biggest critic and I know I haven't performed.

"But I'm still as determined as ever to make the finals again with Ireland, I'm now 29 and this could be my last chance. You could say, it's crunch time."

That's the kind of talk which will fill McCarthy with enthusiasm as he seeks to convert the heartbreak of play-off defeats for France '98 and Euro 2000 into the chemistry for survival in the new World Cup campaign.

With the turmoil of Tuesday behind him, the manager was back to more routine matters yesterday, calling up Curtis Fleming and Graham Kavanagh to fill the vacancies caused by the abrupt departure of Phil Babb and Mark Kennedy.

The pair were ejected from the Irish squad to travel to Amsterdam after their high jinks landed them in court on Tuesday morning.

Of great significance was the deployment of McCarthy's forces in yesterday's practice match in which Richard Dunne partnered Gary Breen at centre back in the senior team and Jason McAteer filled Kennedy's old position on the right wing.

Dunne hasn't yet tasted competitive football at this level, but, in spite of his shortage of match practice - he is currently serving a five-match club ban - McCarthy may be prepared to go with the gamble.

"I thought he did exceptionally well for us in our end of season games and, having checked on his form in pre-season games, I have no qualms about his fitness," he said.

Although Nall Quinn and Steve Carr didn't train yesterday, both are expected to be fit, encouraging the hope that, for all the mishaps of recent days, Ireland may yet upset the odds.

"I honestly believe that we'll never have a better chance of getting a result in Holland, and I, for one, am certainly looking forward to the game," said McCarthy.